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: 259117

Reported Deaths: 5668
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17436187
Hinds16524328
Harrison13876199
Rankin11000217
Jackson10652187
Lee8981141
Madison8413168
Jones6552112
Forrest6101121
Lauderdale6034189
Lowndes5463119
Lafayette507393
Lamar496465
Washington4877124
Bolivar4068109
Oktibbeha401681
Panola378380
Pontotoc372155
Monroe3628105
Warren3619101
Union350563
Marshall349569
Neshoba3433152
Pearl River3380104
Leflore3079108
Lincoln300687
Sunflower289272
Hancock285360
Tate276762
Alcorn268854
Pike266580
Itawamba266261
Scott253448
Yazoo250156
Prentiss249552
Tippah245850
Copiah244549
Coahoma243654
Simpson240069
Leake234367
Grenada221171
Marion218473
Covington216972
Adams210170
Wayne206432
Winston205267
George202739
Attala195761
Newton195745
Tishomingo192461
Chickasaw186144
Jasper176038
Holmes169868
Clay162735
Tallahatchie154935
Stone148424
Clarke143562
Calhoun138021
Smith125825
Yalobusha120234
Walthall113437
Greene112129
Noxubee111425
Montgomery110936
Carroll105922
Lawrence104317
Perry103231
Amite99926
Webster94324
Tunica87621
Jefferson Davis87327
Claiborne86825
Benton84023
Humphreys83624
Kemper79120
Quitman7029
Franklin68716
Choctaw62313
Wilkinson58825
Jefferson55920
Sharkey44217
Issaquena1606
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 432536

Reported Deaths: 6379
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson63523957
Mobile30967562
Madison27627201
Tuscaloosa21122268
Montgomery19495326
Shelby18941126
Baldwin16798188
Lee12901102
Morgan12447129
Etowah11911178
Calhoun11365205
Marshall10322119
Houston8813156
Limestone823176
Cullman8159106
Elmore8056104
DeKalb7796102
Lauderdale773399
St. Clair7705122
Talladega6347109
Walker5993174
Jackson590341
Colbert543274
Blount541186
Autauga527061
Coffee454160
Dale405482
Franklin371948
Russell345712
Chilton340972
Covington334168
Escambia328344
Dallas310196
Chambers297370
Clarke290536
Tallapoosa2665107
Pike258830
Marion250155
Lawrence249150
Winston231442
Bibb219848
Geneva206946
Marengo205229
Pickens198631
Hale180842
Barbour177836
Fayette174528
Butler171358
Cherokee162530
Henry157523
Monroe150718
Randolph143236
Washington139527
Clay128546
Crenshaw121644
Cleburne119724
Lamar119621
Macon119637
Lowndes112536
Wilcox105822
Bullock101428
Perry99118
Conecuh96320
Sumter89726
Greene76723
Coosa62215
Choctaw51624
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