A horde of Sampson County department heads and first responders were packed in two rooms inside the Emergency Management Services building Wednesday morning, tracking Hurricane Florence as the behemoth wobbled south in the Atlantic. The impact in Sampson, some 80 miles inland, is still expected to be immense and long-term, already necessitating mass closures, shelter openings and mandatory curfews.
Sampson’s Emergency Operations Center was activated at 7 a.m. Wednesday at the EMS building and will remain open 24/7 for the duration of the storm’s response and recovery efforts. From there, response and recovery will be coordinated.
Emergency personnel packed the EOC to receive and disseminate the most up-to-the-minute information on the impending storm while, within the training room on the other side of the building, Emergency Management director Ronald Bass briefed department heads from Clinton and Sampson County.
Schools across Sampson were closing for the rest of the week late Wednesday morning and shelters were opening up Wednesday afternoon at five locations, with three potential spill-over locations already identified. Local municipalities, including Roseboro and Garland, declared their own States of Emergency on the heels of similar proclamations by Sampson County and the City of Clinton.
Sampson County amended their State of Emergency to add provisions for a curfew that will start at 7 p.m. Thursday and remain in effect from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily until rescinded. That is for the unincorporated areas of the county. Roseboro is also implementing a curfew, starting at 7 p.m. Thursday, in effect until 7 a.m. Other towns were expected to follow. (See curfew stipulations in related box)
Late Tuesday, the Duplin County manager, Emergency Management coordinator and Duplin Sheriff Blake Wallace urged all residents of Duplin County to voluntarily evacuate the county due to the imminent threat posed by the approaching Hurricane Florence.
Susan Holder, public information officer for Sampson, said she did not foresee a voluntary evacuation order in Sampson, but the situation was being monitored. Some voluntary evacuations were suggested during Hurricane Matthew, but only for specific low-lying and flood-prone areas, she noted. Relaying information from the National Weather Service, Bass said those same areas flooded during Matthew would most definitely flood again, along with others.
On Wednesday morning, Hurricane Florence continued to loom in the Atlantic as a monster Category 4 storm. Weather officials said it could ultimately be the “storm of a lifetime” for portions of the Carolina coast. While it is uncertain exactly where the storm will make landfall, tracks now have the storm staying farther south.
“At 6 p.m. (Tuesday), the track had it hitting Surf City, which would be really bad for us,” said Holder. “This morning, the track showed that the storm had gone south headed toward Sunset Beach. There are still implications for us.”
Regardless of landfall, Clinton and Sampson County will get the brunt of a storm that could slam the Carolinas harder than any hurricane since Hazel, which struck in 1954 with 130 mph winds. Florence’s winds will be comparable, possibly stronger, with rainfall expected to be historic. Sampson could get 10-15 inches of rain, possibly upwards of 20 inches, while coastal areas could receive 3 feet.
The National Hurricane Center’s projected track had Florence hovering off the southern North Carolina coast from Thursday night until landfall Saturday morning or so, about a day later than previously expected. It is expected to then slow down and wring itself out for days, unloading rain that will cause flooding well inland.
As of Wednesday morning, Florence, a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm, was centered 530 miles southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving at 17 mph. It was packing winds of 130 mph and enough moisture to dump feet of rain on the region.
The coastal surge from Florence could leave the eastern tip of North Carolina under more than 9 feet (2.75 meters) of water in spots, projections showed.
“The weather in Sampson County should start deteriorating late Wednesday afternoon,” Bass said earlier this week. “Sampson County can expect winds of 80 mph. Those will be gusts, but there will be high sustained winds as well, which will result in downed trees, downed power lines and will mean a long recovery in getting power restored. We’re looking at structural damage and there could be isolated tornadoes — that possibility is real.”
Holder echoed that sentiment Wednesday, saying that tornadoes were very much on the radar.
All service by fire and rescue in Sampson County will be suspended once winds reach 45 mph and will not resume until winds go back under that threshold. Law enforcement and emergency officials have urged residents to seriously heed warnings about staying home once conditions do deteriorate.
The Sampson County Sheriff’s Office utilizes the app ReadyNC and recommends it for all citizens. There, they can follow updates from state and local agencies on Hurricane Florence.
Emergency shelters were opened 1 p.m. Wednesday at the following locations in Sampson:
• Clinton High School, 340 Indian Town Road, Clinton
• Union Elementary School, 10400 Taylors Bridge Highway, Clinton
• Hobbton Middle School, 12081 Hobbton Highway, Newton Grove
• Midway High School, 15274 Spivey’s Corner Highway, 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. A pet shelter is also open at the Livestock Arena, 93 Agriculture Place, Clinton. (See full shelter information in related box)
Holder said three spill-over locations have already been designated, at Hobbton High School, Plain View Elementary School and Union High School, but will not open unless they are needed, at which point an announcement will be made by county officials.
While the outlook was not as dire for Sampson as of Wednesday morning, local leaders didn’t mince words when it came to the impacts that would be felt here.
“This is a highly impactful storm that will necessitate a number of resources over an extended amount of time,” Holder remarked. “We are fully aware of that.”
In Duplin, shelters were also opened on Wednesday.
Occupants were informed they should bring supplies for themselves for at least five days. Food and water supplies provided by the county will be limited. Duplin shelters, which opened at 2 p.m. Wednesday, are at the following locations:
• Wallace-Rose Hill High School, 602 High School Road, Teachey
• Beulaville Elementary School, 138 Lyman Road, Beulaville
• North Duplin Elementary School, 157 N. Duplin School Road, Mt Olive
• James Kenan High School (Pet-friendly location), 1241 N.C. 24 and 50 Hwy., Warsaw
Managing Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.