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Florence prompts mandatory evacuations

More than one million people on the southern East Coast of the United States faced mandatory evacuation orders as Hurricane Florence nears.

Posted: Sep 13, 2018 4:28 AM
Updated: Sep 13, 2018 4:44 AM

Before moving to North Carolina's Lower Cape Fear nearly 30 years ago, I'd never witnessed the eye of a hurricane firsthand. Then, in 1996, I got to experience the eerie calm of the eye not once, but twice — when hurricanes Bertha and Fran swept over Wilmington within seven weeks of each other.

My then-wife and I always did what most people on the Cape Fear coast have done: We rode out every storm, with almost a sense of defiance. It didn't matter that we lived in a creaky 90-year-old, wood-frame house surrounded by monstrous trees. Hurricane Bertha — a Category 2 storm — peeled off our roof shingles as if scaling a fish. But in a short time, we had a new roof and were ready for the next storm.

Eastern North Carolina has a long history of riding out hurricanes. But people here are taking hurricane preparedness more seriously than ever. Since the late 1990s, coastal flooding from storms has become more frequent and serious. With our current visitor, Florence, the most arresting difference is that it's a Category 4. The Carolinas have been slammed by only two storms of that ferocity before -- Hazel in 1954 and Hugo in 1989 -- and they are legendary.

Hurricane Bertha felled thousands of trees of every size across the region. Tall, long-leaf pines snapped like pencils at their midpoints, their downturned crowns often all pointing in the same direction. Hulking live oaks crushed vehicles and collapsed porches. And Bertha was only a Category 2. Only.

Less than two months later, hurricane Fran turned the steeples of the First Baptist Church in downtown Wilmington into swaths of red-brick rubble down Market Street. Built in 1870, the twin steeples had been among the town's tallest, most recognizable features of the skyline.

With a parade of storms coming through in a few years, southeastern North Carolina took its turn as "The Hurricane Coast." Neighbors of mine typically stayed on to deal with leaking roofs or broken windows before they caused major water damage. I'm hearing that rationale less often lately.

Everyone is taking Florence seriously. Mandatory evacuations of low-lying coastal areas, not just the beaches, were issued earlier for this storm than I recall happening before. In fact, I do not recall the entire county of New Hanover ever being asked to evacuate before. Schools and government offices have closed. Despite the long lines at gas stations and home-improvement stores, city traffic is light this Tuesday.

At the university where I work, a voluntary evacuation of students took effect Monday, a mandatory evacuation Tuesday. Classes are canceled all week. Exterior furniture has been stowed, fountains shut off. IT systems have been powered down. This afternoon, a Tuesday, the campus is vacant and eerily still.

Last October, my university coordinated a statewide hurricane preparedness drill to plan for a Category 5 hurricane. The five-day "Hurricane Zephyr" exercise involved hundreds of people at 14 UNC campuses, local emergency management offices, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Weather Service, the National Guard, and student volunteers.

The university's carefully orchestrated, proactive response to Hurricane Florence is very much a result of that exercise. As I write this, students without off-campus refuge, many of them internationals, are being bussed to a shelter at UNC Asheville, accompanied by several university staff. I've not seen such comprehensive, well-coordinated, proactive measures executed in advance of any previous storm.

That wasn't always the case. Decisions to evacuate were often made late in the game, presumably to avoid acting unnecessarily, should the storm turn back to sea.

This longer view of preparedness is likely to become the norm. Evacuating a university, a beach or a county is costly, inconvenient and massively disruptive. But the fear of evacuating unnecessarily has been replaced by caution. Early evacuation gives everyone time to get to safety and reduces the risk of being stranded on windswept or flooded highways choked with vehicles.

That's not to say that everyone who lives within scent of sea spray will leave. But the number of people I've spoken with who are leaving is unprecedented in my experience.

This Tuesday afternoon, two days before Florence's predicted landfall, I, too, am fleeing inland — a no-brainer. I live in a ground-floor apartment in a neighborhood of mostly one-story homes, not far from a creek. Florence is predicted to slow down once it makes landfall, making severe flooding more likely. Tall pine trees surround the house, two of them standing far out of plumb due to previous storms. All the forecasts paint this storm as perhaps unprecedented in strength for this area.

Category 3s are scary enough. I don't need to stick around for a 4 to see how bad it can be.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 482902

Reported Deaths: 9425
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33063488
Hinds31021589
DeSoto30610358
Jackson23687348
Rankin21340370
Lee14909220
Madison14166271
Jones13404227
Forrest13160240
Lauderdale11601305
Lowndes10443176
Lamar10214130
Pearl River9098221
Lafayette8241137
Hancock7514112
Washington7102150
Oktibbeha6964124
Monroe6514164
Neshoba6475201
Warren6464164
Pontotoc630393
Panola6250126
Marshall6126123
Bolivar6115144
Union574186
Pike5613136
Alcorn537290
Lincoln5303131
George471472
Scott459196
Leflore4476140
Prentiss446779
Tippah446480
Itawamba4444100
Adams4416116
Tate4394101
Simpson4335112
Wayne433066
Copiah431787
Yazoo423386
Covington415792
Sunflower4148104
Marion4099104
Leake397586
Coahoma3957100
Newton370875
Grenada3556104
Stone350860
Tishomingo336289
Attala325387
Jasper314162
Winston304691
Clay296473
Chickasaw287065
Clarke282190
Calhoun266141
Holmes262187
Smith250649
Yalobusha221047
Tallahatchie220450
Walthall211058
Greene209045
Lawrence206833
Perry199953
Amite198452
Webster196542
Noxubee178939
Montgomery172454
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162137
Tunica153334
Benton142535
Kemper138640
Choctaw127026
Claiborne126834
Humphreys126637
Franklin116728
Quitman103926
Wilkinson101936
Jefferson91333
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1926
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 789054

Reported Deaths: 14022
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1115991765
Mobile708511234
Madison49865633
Shelby36274315
Baldwin36242495
Tuscaloosa33931548
Montgomery33190678
Lee22680220
Calhoun21211410
Morgan19816335
Etowah19300462
Marshall17680274
Houston16823386
St. Clair15442305
Cullman14602258
Limestone14581188
Elmore14480264
Lauderdale13520281
Talladega12958236
DeKalb12199237
Walker10588330
Blount9720157
Autauga9667137
Jackson9385158
Coffee8882175
Dale8609173
Colbert8534184
Tallapoosa6673181
Escambia6591121
Covington6452167
Chilton6385144
Russell607255
Franklin5795101
Chambers5416134
Marion4800120
Dallas4705189
Clarke463279
Pike462397
Geneva4413117
Winston425895
Lawrence4117108
Bibb409381
Barbour347270
Marengo326285
Monroe320053
Butler318290
Randolph305956
Pickens305274
Henry301858
Hale292685
Cherokee289855
Fayette279673
Washington245448
Crenshaw238470
Cleburne235851
Clay228565
Macon220158
Lamar197743
Conecuh182046
Lowndes170758
Coosa170235
Wilcox159736
Bullock149243
Perry136537
Sumter124536
Greene121443
Choctaw73427
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
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Hi: 85° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 68°
Columbus
Clear
66° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 66°
Oxford
Clear
66° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 66°
Starkville
Partly Cloudy
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Hi: 84° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 66°
Little bits and pieces of low pressure move back into our area over the next several days. This will bring back into our weather forecast some more chances for some isolated to scattered showers and thunderstorms.
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