Weakened Florence still threatens area

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Vehicles drive Friday on Winstead Avenue during then-Hurricane Florence.


From Staff Reports

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Twin Counties so far has escaped any major impacts from now-Tropical Storm Florence, but local officials are warning area residents not to become complacent about the still very dangerous storm.

“We’ve still got some wind and rain that are going to come through during the night so people need to stay home and stay safe,” Mayor David Combs said. “Stay inside, stay off the roads and err on the side of caution.”

The National Weather Service in Raleigh recorded wind speeds of 25-30 mph with gusts up to 35 to 40 mph on Saturday in the Twin Counties. 

“The National Hurricane Center has downgraded Florence to a tropical storm, but the hazards for the area will continue,” said James Morrow, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Raleigh. “We are expecting heavy rainfall and gusting winds — and a flash flood warning continues to be in effect with the rain bands from the storm continuing to affect the area.”

Morrow said Twin Counties residents should expect wind speeds of 25-35 mph with gusts up to 45 mph throughout the night, with rainfall accumulations of 1-3 inches today and 2-4 inches on Saturday.

“Flooding rains will lead to flooding rivers,” he said. “We’re expecting the rain to continue in the area through Sunday.”

Nash County Emergency Services Director Brian Brantley said the worst may be yet to come.

“So far we’ve not had any injuries reported from the storm and damage is minimal,” he said. “There are a few trees down, but the wind has not been as bad as we expected. However, we expect wind speeds to pick up on Saturday — and that, combined with the rainfall, could cause problems.”

A funnel cloud was spotted in Nash County but apparently did not touch down in the area, Brantley said. A tornado watch for the area is in effect until 11 p.m.

Edgecombe County Manager Eric Evans said his biggest concern is potential flooding from the Tar River.

"Projections are showing that the river level will probably rise,” he said. “The projections say it will probably peak at 19 feet and be at flood stage."

Evans said the water level at the Tar River bridge in Tarboro was at 2 feet on Tuesday but rose to 6½ feet later in the week. But it went down as of Friday, he said.

"We believe it went up after the city of Rocky Mount, with their reservoir, had a controlled release in preparation for the storm over a couple-day period," Evans said. "We believe that's what contributed to that. On Friday morning, it was at about 3½ feet here at the gauge of the town bridge in Tarboro.

"At this point, the amount of damage has been minimal. Overall, compared to the early projections for this storm and compared to certainly what is happening south and east of us, we've fared pretty well and are very grateful for that."

The city deactivated its Emergency Operations Center at 5 p.m. today, but the utilities, police and fire departments continue to monitor the storm, said Tameka Kenan-Norman, the city’s chief communications and marketing officer.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” Rocky Mount Fire Chief Mike Varnell said in an emailed statement. “However, the Swiftwater Emergency Response Team has been deactivated and are being mobilized to New Bern (and) the Helo-Aquatic Rescue Team is flying out tomorrow. It has not yet been determined where they are going to assist.”

The city’s Facebook page reported that nearly 500 utility customers lost power for a short time this morning before city crews were able to restore service. Most homes in the area appear to still have power.

“We have been blessed so far,” Brantley said. “The power is still on in all three shelters.”

The Englewood Baptist Church shelter, which is primarily housing evacuees from coastal areas, is housing about 120 people, Brantley said. The Southern Nash High School and Nash Central High School shelters each have about 105 occupants from local areas.

Evans said 277 people are staying in the five shelters in Edgecombe County, with Tarboro High School and Carver Elementary School in Pinetops housing the most.

He added that the shelters and the county's emergency operations center will continue to stay open through the weekend.

The Nash County Operations Center will remain open through at least Saturday, Brantley said.

All city facilities will be closed through the weekend and are scheduled to reopen Monday.

A citywide curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. remains in effect through Saturday.