Hurricane Florence is expected to bring life-threatening devastation to the Carolinas, with inland impacts stretching well into the central part of North Carolina. The storm, labeled as a Category 4 on Monday, has prompted State of Emergency declarations in counties across North Carolina, including Sampson, where shelters will open to the public on Wednesday.
Despite the point of landfall, local and state officials said Sampson and other inland counties will most definitely see a sizable impact on Florence’s current track.
Florence has maintained its track for the North Carolina-South Carolina coast, resulting in increased confidence of widespread flooding and significantly damaging winds and power outages for Sampson. County officials announced Monday shelters would be opened at five locations at 1 p.m. this Wednesday, Sept. 12. Those locations will be:
• Clinton High School, 340 Indian Town Road, Clinton
• Union Elementary School, 10400 Taylors Bridge Hwy., Clinton
• Hobbton Middle School, 12081 Hobbton Hwy., Newton Grove
• Midway High School, 15274 Spivey’s Corner Hwy., Dunn
• Lakewood High School, 245 Lakewood School Road, Salemburg
Officials with the Sampson County Department of Social Services and the Sampson County Health Department will man the Red Cross shelters, along with other county agencies. County and municipal law enforcement will provide security (see related box for shelter details).
The Sampson County Emergency Operations Center will be fully activated as of 7 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12. The county enacted a State of Emergency following a vote during Monday night’s Sampson Board of Commissioners meeting.
“We’ll get through it,” Sampson County Emergency Management director Ronald Bass assured about 50 people in a packed training room Monday. “If you have a request, get it in.”
Bass noted that he heard from directors in New Hanover, Pender and Onslow on Sunday that, should Florence maintain its Category 4 status, they likely wouldn’t be opening up shelters.
“And we know what that means,” said Bass, alluding to evacuations out of the county, away from the coast.
Bracing for impact
About 50 representatives from local agencies sat in on a state conference call Monday, packing a small training room in the Emergency Management building. Local personnel listened while, one by one, county Emergency Management directors gave brief updates of current preparation statuses in their respective counties, listing requests such as MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), tarps, cots, chainsaw crews and swift water rescue teams and detailing shelter plans.
“Significant debris management” and “long-term power outages” were phrases uttered from coastal counties, while some just a little further inland talked of the possibility of 15-20 inches of rainfall. “It doesn’t necessarily matter where it makes landfall,” one director stated. “Impacts will be felt way away from it. Inland impacts will be widespread and long-term.”
The National Weather Service put out an direct and ominous statement Monday morning.
“Hurricane Florence is forecast to be a very powerful, major hurricane on its approach to the coast of the Southeast U.S. Wednesday and Thursday. The associated risk of life-threatening impacts well inland into central North Carolina, including damaging wind, tornadoes and prolonged, extremely heavy rainfall, is increasing,” the statement read. “Residents of central North Carolina are strongly encouraged to take time now to put together emergency kits and an emergency plan of how best to protect family and pets, as well as continue to closely monitor the progress and latest forecasts of Hurricane Florence.”
Many at the state and local level were already placing Florence’s potential prolonged destruction on par with Matthew two years ago and the dreaded F-words — 1996’s Fran and 1999’s Floyd.
Hurricane Matthew, one of the most devastating storms in North Carolina’s history in October 2016, generated record flooding across much of the Coastal Plain, claiming 28 lives, leaving thousands homeless and entire towns under water. In September 1999, similar inland flooding occurred with Hurricane Floyd, which claimed 35 lives in North Carolina. Overall, most hurricane deaths over the past 30 years have been the result of flooding, many of which have occurred in automobiles as people attempt to drive through flooded areas where water covers the road, national weather officials said.
Assistant county manager Susan Holder said the lessons from Matthew have produced an abundance of precaution for Florence.
“There’s always a benefit that comes from every storm because of the lessons learned, and I think we learned many lessons from Matthew. People don’t wait and see anymore. We have to be prepared beforehand for the worse, and I do sense that preparation here,” said Holder, who noted Florence is still on track to be a completely different monster. “There is a sense about this storm that there could be significant impacts to this area.”
She noted specifically the expected flooding impacts, especially to those counties further inland such as Sampson.
“We are paying attention to that,” she said.
As bad as Florence could be, it may also not be the end.
On Monday, in addition to Florence, the National Hurricane Center issued advisories for Hurricane Helene, located over the eastern Atlantic; and on Hurricane Isaac, located over the central tropical Atlantic.
Event, school cancelations
Due to the threat of Hurricane Florence, several highly-publicized events slated for this week have been canceled.
S.C.O.P.E. (Sampson County Opioid Prevention and Education) 4 Hope Opioid Summit, sponsored by the Sampson County Substance Abuse Coalition, as well as the Food Truck Rodeo, a partnership between Sampson Community College, the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Center, were both canceled Monday.
Both were scheduled for Wednesday, and are now postponed to a later date.
“A good portion of the people that were working to coordinate (the opioid summit) will now be in hurricane preparation,” Holder noted.
She said the Agri-Exposition Center had canceled a full slate of events for the week, as it would serve as a staging area for the collection of supplies to be transported and distributed across the county.
The 8th annual Hope Project Golf Tournament, sponsored by Tim’s Gift, will also not take place this Friday.
Due to Florence, Duplin County Schools will dismiss students at noon this Wednesday, Sept. 12. Principals will release staff once buildings are secured on Wednesday. Schools will be closed for students and staff Thursday, Sept. 13, and Friday, Sept. 14. All after-school activities are cancelled.
No announcement was made for Sampson County Schools or Clinton City Schools as of press time Monday.
Blood donations sought
On Monday, Sampson Regional Medical Center also put out a call for blood donations before the impending storm hits.
Blood donations of all types are needed, but individuals with type A and O are most needed, O- being the highest in demand because it is a universal donor type.
“It is imperative that we have an adequate supply of blood on hand for any emergencies that may arise during the storm,” urged Natalie Lamb, Director of Laboratory & Donor Services. During Hurricane Matthew, the county experienced significant flooding and power outages, limiting the ability to get donations after the storm. “Currently, we are at minimum inventory so by being prepared before the storm arrives it enables us to have supply on hand in case we experience the same aftermath as Hurricane Matthew.”
Depending on storm damage in other counties, it may drive in an influx of patients who are unable to seek care at other facilities. Sampson Regional Medical Center is one of few hospitals in the state that provides most all of its blood supply. When the hospital cannot sustain its own blood supply, it must purchase from other hospitals or blood collection agencies, such as the American Red Cross, which could also experience a shortage after the storm.
Available donors are encouraged to give as immediately as possible. Donors can schedule their appointment by visiting www.SampsonRMC.org/blooddonor or by calling 910-592-2689, x2253 or 910-592-8511, x 3144.