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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.

Confirmed Cases: 111322

Reported Deaths: 3202
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7796173
DeSoto670178
Harrison484483
Jackson435081
Rankin383786
Madison373993
Lee344979
Forrest296377
Jones283782
Washington252197
Lafayette242642
Lauderdale2376131
Lamar217138
Bolivar198377
Oktibbeha195854
Neshoba1814111
Lowndes174962
Panola166337
Leflore160787
Sunflower157649
Warren152755
Monroe145972
Pontotoc143819
Pike137256
Lincoln135555
Copiah135036
Marshall134826
Scott123829
Coahoma123436
Grenada120038
Yazoo119333
Simpson118649
Union115225
Holmes113560
Leake113340
Tate113239
Itawamba110424
Pearl River108958
Adams104343
Prentiss102619
Wayne98721
Alcorn96012
George93917
Marion92942
Covington92525
Tippah85921
Newton84427
Chickasaw82625
Winston82221
Tallahatchie81825
Tishomingo79341
Hancock78127
Attala77626
Clarke72349
Clay67621
Jasper67417
Walthall63327
Calhoun61412
Noxubee59617
Smith58316
Claiborne53216
Montgomery52923
Tunica52217
Lawrence49914
Yalobusha49314
Perry48122
Carroll46312
Greene45518
Stone45014
Amite41713
Quitman4146
Humphreys41216
Jefferson Davis39811
Webster36613
Wilkinson33020
Kemper32015
Benton3154
Sharkey27814
Jefferson27010
Franklin2373
Choctaw2036
Issaquena1063
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 153016

Reported Deaths: 2633
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22563372
Mobile14335314
Tuscaloosa10023133
Montgomery9759196
Madison904893
Shelby709960
Lee644966
Baldwin640569
Marshall428248
Calhoun412759
Etowah405749
Morgan396833
Houston364632
DeKalb319628
Elmore310752
St. Clair282142
Limestone270828
Walker268892
Talladega258435
Cullman227623
Lauderdale208740
Autauga201029
Jackson200915
Franklin199731
Colbert192228
Russell19053
Dallas185627
Blount184824
Chilton181731
Escambia171328
Coffee16669
Covington166029
Dale163451
Pike130512
Chambers130143
Tallapoosa128686
Clarke127117
Marion104729
Butler99840
Barbour9889
Marengo97221
Winston90413
Geneva8417
Pickens80517
Lawrence80031
Randolph79814
Bibb79114
Hale74529
Cherokee72214
Clay71912
Lowndes70127
Henry6376
Bullock63517
Monroe6319
Washington62212
Crenshaw59330
Perry5806
Wilcox55912
Conecuh55713
Fayette55312
Cleburne5287
Macon52820
Sumter46721
Lamar4565
Choctaw38712
Greene33916
Coosa1973
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