Residents warned to stay at home

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Brad Kessler, right, a journeyman lineman from Hebron, Ohio, listens to a podcast in his truck Thursday while awaiting his next assignment at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Rocky Mount. Kessler works for SPE Utility Contractors which is based in Port Huron, Mich.


From staff, wire reports

Thursday, September 13, 2018

State and local officials warned residents to remain vigilant as Hurricane Florence battered the Carolina coastline with 100-mph winds and surging sea levels.

Gov. Roy Cooper urged state residents to stay on guard despite Florence’s projected southwestern storm track.

“Do not relax, do not get complacent. Stay on guard," Cooper said. "This is a powerful storm that can kill. Now is the time to get yourself to a safe place and stay there."

Forecasters said conditions will only get more lethal as the storm pushes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina border and makes its way slowly inland. Its surge of ocean water could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 13 feet, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet of rain, touching off severe flooding.

"Make no mistake — whether the eye of the storm makes landfall along our shores or farther south, we’re on the wrong side of it,” Cooper said. “This storm will bring destruction to North Carolina."

Florence’s winds weakened as it drew closer to land, dropping from a peak of 140 mph earlier in the week, and the hurricane was downgraded from a Category 4 to a Category 2. But given the storm’s size and sluggish track, meteorologists warned that it could cause epic damage similar to what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago, with floodwaters swamping homes and businesses and washing over industrial waste sites and hog-manure ponds.

“We need to stay vigilant,” said Scott Rogers, deputy chief of Nash County Emergency Services. “We’re looking at tropical-storm force winds in our area for several hours, and that can cause a lot of damage — not to mention the rain we’re looking at.”

A flash flood watch is under effect for Nash and Edgecombe counties through Saturday evening, as Florence is expected to slow its forward progress tonight into Friday before moving slowly west-southwest late Friday into Saturday, producing a prolonged period of torrential rainfall across sections of the Piedmont and Coastal Plain.

Forecasters are predicting the massive storm’s relentless rains have the potential to produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding while also contributing to the potential for landslides across the mountains. Floodwaters may enter tens of thousands of structures and could make many uninhabitable.

“Starting tonight until the duration, if you can stay put, stay where you are,” Rogers said. “Certainly if you do have to go out, don’t drive through any water. Stay away from the water at all costs.”

Tropical-storm force winds are already blowing across the coast with hurricane conditions expected to arrive early Friday. The high winds will likely snap or uproot numerous trees. The storm may also spawn tornadoes

Utility companies are predicting power outages that could reach between one-to-three million across both North and South Carolina for days and possibly weeks.

Rocky Mount Director of Public Utilities Rich Worsinger said the city’s call center is staffed and all generators and vehicles are fully fueled. Some crews and scouts — who look to see what's happened and call the correct crews — already are on standby. The city also has contracted out with two private tree crews to supplement the two tree crews it has, he added. 

“We’re keeping some people late until about 8 o’clock tonight in case things happen, and then we’re bringing the next shift in, and they’ll be here through the night,” he said. “And tomorrow morning we bring everybody back in.”

The city’s residential garbage, recycling and yard waste has been cancelled for Friday and has been rescheduled for Monday, weather permitting.

To report a power outage, city utility customers should call 252-467-4800.