County preps for Irma’s punch

By: By Beth Lawrence -

LAURINBURG –Scotland County officials will be briefed today by the National Weather Service on the progress of Hurricane Irma.

But they already know that residents should be prepared ahead what could be a major storm.

Emergency responders along with city and county officials will meet at the Emergency Operations Center at 1:45 today to participate in a briefing from the National Weather Service as to what plans the state is making and the latest information on the storm, according to EMS Director Roylin Hammond.

Those same officials participated in a conference call with state officials on Thursday to receive the latest information and begin to make some plans according to County Manager Kevin Patterson. The conference calls will continue through the weekend as Irma’s path can be better predicted.

As of Thursday afternoon the National Weather Service was predicting tropical storm effects for Scotland County beginning Sunday or Monday if the storm stays on its current predicted path, Hammond said. The county could see wind gust up to 50 mph and up to six inches of rain.

“But that depends on where it makes landfall,” Hammond said. “If it makes landfall on Florida or if it goes out to the Atlantic and picks up more speed, you just never know with hurricanes.”

Planners still want residents to make preparations for a worst case scenario.

“Because of the size of the storm, we are going to have an impact,” Patterson said. “Make sure you have whatever you need to take care of your family for three days: food, medicine, water and have it ready in the next couple of days before the storm hits.”

Patterson reminds residents that they don’t need to have any extraordinary items only the items they would need in an emergency and to plan on having a power outage.

“Have canned food and a manual can opener, peanut butter and simple things that don’t require cooking or refrigeration,” Patterson said.

With the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew still in their recent memories, many residents did not need to wait around to be told.

“It could possibly be as strong as Hugo, if not stronger. I went through Hugo and I don’t want to go through another one,“ said Audrey Baker of Georgetown, South Carolina. “When they start to tell you to evacuate, you better move when they say move.”

Empty shelves

People began stocking up early in the week, and their efforts intensified as the week went on.

By Thursday, shelves in local stores had been denuded of emergency items like batteries, water, lamp oil, candles, flashlights and non-perishable foods.

“They were practically beating down the doors at 9 o’clock this morning,” said one Big Lots employee in Laurinburg. “We have a few flashlights left and we’re out of water. We have a truck coming in tomorrow, but it’s our regular truck, so it may or may not have water.”

Rosa Locklear went to Big Lots to pick up the final items on her list of supplies. She was among the customers to buy the store’s last cases of water. Locklear was one of tens of thousands of people caught unaware by Hurricane Matthew in Oct. 2016.

“I came to stock up for Irma. I’ve bought water, food, dog food − non-perishable items, batteries, flashlights and made sure my vehicles were full of gas,” Locklear said. “We were affected by Matthew. We lost power and water for five days; we had not prepared then, lesson learned. I think that’s many of the people in this area right now.”

Keith Jacobs came all the way to the Walmart in Laurinburg only to find the same empty shelves as in his hometown of Pembroke.

“Matthew may have prompted us to be more prepared,” Jacobs said. “We weren’t quite prepared last year and were without power for about a week.”

Local gas stations struggled to keep pace as residents filled their tanks with lines stacked several deep in places.

Dalton Manning stopped at a local station to fill up his car ahead of the storm, but that is the only precaution he has taken so far.

“I came to fill up because it looks like it’s going to get pretty rough, but that’s it for now; I’ll wait until Sunday [to prepare anything else]. I think it’s going to be Sunday before they really know how close it’s going to get to us.”

Pet owners are making sure that their four legged family members are ready for the storm as well.

James Barnes of Pet Sense said a few people have been in stocking up on pet food and buying extra kennels and crates. He even had a couple come in offering to adopt pets that may be stranded by the storm.

Patterson reminds residents to prepare for their pet’s needs also as they plan for the storm.

“Don’t forget that you have them, and treat them like tiny people,” he said.

Barnes advises people to have kennels ready and remember to bring their pets with them if they have to evacuate.

“Make sure if you’re in an area that floods that your pets have access to higher ground, and don’t forget to bring your animals with you if the waters start to come up.”

City officials have begun to make preparations ahead of Irma as well, according to City Manager Charles Nichols.

“Street crews have put off programs they were working on to make sure drains and ditches are clear to handle the storm and the rainfall that could be with it,” Nichols said.

The city and county have also advised police, fire, sheriff and other city and county vehicles to fuel up at local gas stations instead of using the city/county fuel depot. The move will allow the two to have a larger fuel reserve to deal with the aftermath of the storm if needed, according to Nichols.

County emergency crews are also fueling up generators a head of the storm to provide for essential electrical needs.

Officials advise people to stay abreast of developments as Irma progresses so that they can plan accordingly, but they admonish people to rely on reputable resources.

“Facebook is not a news source. In the last 24 hours, I have seen on social media that Irma will be a category six − there is no such thing as a category six, and that Walgreen’s burned down – it hadn’t,” Patterson said. “Use WRAL, WPDE, NOA, the National Weather Service, The Laurinburg Exchange or WLNC if you want legitimate information.”

The county has designated four schools as shelters for those in homes that won’t handle storms. Scotland High School will serve as the primary shelter, according to Patterson, and Sycamore Lane Elementary and Carver and Spring Hill Middle schools will be used as well.

There is no schedule for when the schools will be opened, but the announcement will be made as plans are solidified Patterson said.

No decisions have been made on school closings or early release, according to Meredith Bounds.

School officials will monitor the situation over the weekend before making a call. Bounds advises residents to check with local media or check the, Scotland County Schools social media pages or download the Scotland County Schools Blackboard app.

Calls will also go out to parents through the Connect 5 alert system once a decision is made. Bounds reminds people to make sure their information is up to date so that they receive the calls.

Nolan Gilmour | Laurinburg Exchange Audrey Baker of Georgetown, South Carolina, finds depleted shelves in Laurinburg as she prepares for Hurricane Irma. Gilmour | Laurinburg Exchange Audrey Baker of Georgetown, South Carolina, finds depleted shelves in Laurinburg as she prepares for Hurricane Irma.

By Beth Lawrence

Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169

Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169