LAURINBURG — With less than 48 hours before Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall along the coast of North Carolina, local officials met again Tuesday with updated plans and Director of Emergency Services Roylin Hammond said the Emergency Operational Center will be activated at 8 a.m.Thursday.
His plans about opening the local shelter at Scotland High also have changed after receiving calls from the public asking about it. Now that school closures have been released, he said that discussions will take place with the school systems, the American Red Cross, Department of Social Services and Public Health for preparations.
“We feel that it is going to be eminent that we are going to have to open a shelter in this,” said Hammond. “The shelter could open as early as Wednesday afternoon.”
Hammond said anyone who depends on oxygen should order bottled oxygen to last three to four days because there is no guarantee the shelter will have electricity.
Because the hurricane is predicted to bring 40 mph of sustained winds to Scotland County, Hammond said emergency services historically have not and will not be able to respond during those times.
“It’s for the safety of the responders, (if sent out) the responders become part of the problem instead of part of the solution,” he added.
EOS also may have to find different routes to access the city, because U.S. 74 West is expected to be packed with traffic as a main evacuation route. Hammond also said gas is becoming a concern as Laurinburg residents fuel up and gasoline gets low.
“There is not a fuel shortage,” he said. “The people are buying all the fuel they can and are storing it. In the event that we lose electricity, the pumps won’t work.”
State of Emergency
Scotland County officials declared a state of emergency throughout the county that went into effect at 8 a.m. on Tuesday. County Chairman Whit Gibson signed the order on Monday afternoon.
The city of Laurinburg declared a state of emergency within the city limits that went into effect around 9:45 a.m. Tuesday. Mayor Matthew Block signed the order Tuesday morning.
Each of the orders will remain in effect until modified or rescinded. There are currently no restrictions imposed by the declaration; however, if necessary, the declaration can be modified.
According to AccuWeather officials, there remains the potential for Florence to stall or significantly reduce its forward speed as it nears the coast, which would also greatly enhance inland flooding of streams and rivers.
“There’s never been a storm like Florence,” said AccuWeather Vice President Marshall Moss. “It was located farther north in the Atlantic than any other storm to ever hit the Carolinas, so what we’re forecasting is unprecedented. Also, most storms coming into the Carolinas tend to move northward, and this storm looks like it’s going to stall over the region and potentially bring tremendous, life-threatening flooding.”
States of emergency have been declared in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland in preparation for Florence’s arrival.
“There could be devastating floods well in from the coast back in the hills and mountains of North Carolina …,” AccuWeather President Joel N. Myers said.
“Strength, track and forward speed of Florence will be the major players in determining the scope and amount of rainfall and correspondingly the severity of inland flooding,” according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.
Even in lieu of the worst-case scenario, Florence has the potential to join the ranks of the costliest natural disasters in the history of the United States joining Irma, Maria and Harvey in 2017; Sandy in 2012; Katrina in 2005; and Andrew in 1992.
The Laurinburg Police Department asks that anyone who sees any price gouging in the area to call the main number to report it.
There haven’t been any reports of it to the department yet, but Lt. Jeremy White reminds the public that it is against the law during a disaster/emergency. Price gouging is when an individual or business charges an exorbitant price on items in a time of crisis.
— — —
Canceled, postponed or closed
Due to the storm Scotland County Parks and Recreation had canceled Family Bingo originally scheduled for Thursday, as well as the first of the fall movie series, “Remember the Titan”, scheduled for Saturday, and all sporting events for the weekend.
St. Andrew’s University has suspended classes and campus activities starting Wednesday at 8 a.m. and will resume on Monday at 8 a.m.
Scotland County Schools and district offices will be closed Thursday and Friday and will be operating on a half-day Wednesday to allow for Red Cross to begin possible preparation for the high school to be used as a shelter. Refer to any of the school’s social media sites or district website for updates.
Early release schedule: Elementary – 11 a.m.; Middle – 12 p.m.; Scotland High – 11 a.m.; Shaw – 10 a.m.; and SEarCH – 1 p.m.
W. Curt Vincent, Katelin Gandee and Jael Pembrick can be reached at 910-506-3025.