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Officials to open shelters, warn of 'very dangerous storm'

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Officials meet for the Pitt County Joint Information Sytem Press Conference at the Eastern AHEC Center, Tuesday morning.

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Pitt County will open six emergency shelters starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday to house people who live in low-lying areas and other places at risk because of heavy rain and high winds expected from Hurricane Florence.

Officials announced during a multi-agency news conference Tuesday that the storm is expected to bring tropical storm force winds at minimum and more than 10 inches of rain starting Thursday night. East Carolina University is closing residence halls at 10 a.m. Wednesday and instructing students to evacuate, and public schools are closing three hours early.

“This hurricane is a very dangerous storm and no one is immune from its path,” Pitt County Emergency Management Director Allen Everette said. “We need everyone to help us and that is to be prepared.”

The shelters will be at Wellcome, Farmville, Ayden, Hope and E.B. Aycock middle schools, Everette said. Pitt County Schools is closing early to accommodate the opening of the shelters and will remain closed for the rest of the week, Superintendent Ethan Lenker said. The school system also is supplying the shelters with food.

Cally Edwards, executive director of the Eastern North Carolina Region of the American Red Cross, said people with special dietary needs should be prepared to bring food for several days because providing for specialized needs will be difficult during and immediately after the storm.

People seeking shelter also should bring several changes of clothes, medicine, toiletries and personal hygiene products, she said.

While no mandatory evacuations were issued Tuesday, the town of Grifton issued a voluntary evacuation order for Pitt Street, Dogwood Lane and Lewis Drive.

Grifton Police Chief Brian Silva said streets along Contentnea Creek that are subject to potential long-term flooding include Main Street, Creekshore Drive, Mill Branch Circle, Water Street, Contentnea Drive, Cross Creek Drive, Smith Street, Robert Chapman Drive, Tucker Street and Carrie Lane.

“We are concerned about a potential for significant flooding or flash flooding,” he said. Ayden Middle School is the closest shelter for Grifton residents.

It’s expected Pitt County will receive an estimated 10-15 inches of rain, Everette said.

“If the system stalls out over land, the area could expected to receive 15-20 inches of rain. The National Weather Service is telling us that it is a real possibility,” Everette said. “That area remains to be seen at this point.”

Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly declared a state of emergency for the city starting at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The proclamation gives the Greenville Police Department authority to restrict or deny access to any location in order to overcome an emergency or prevent the emergency from worsening. No restrictions were in place by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“The threat of this hurricane is real. I know many in this area have been through hurricanes before, but I cannot stress enough that the forecast for this hurricane is unlike any of those we’ve experienced before,” Connelly said. He urged people to make sure items are secured around the exterior of their homes.

Rescue equipment has been stationed across the city, he said. Public works employees are clearing ditches and catch basin to help control flooding. Barriers are being stationed in areas prone flooding to block streets off.

Connelly said it’s likely the city bus system will be not run Thursday and Friday.

The city has implemented an emergency operations patrol plan that will have 80-100 police officers working 12 hours shifts centered around police substations.

Connelly said planning staff is working with city contractors to secure construction sites and code enforcement is reminding property owners and tenants to secure outdoor furniture, loose trash cans and banners.

City Manager Ann Wall said staff is monitoring weather conditions and how rapidly they change in determining when and if evacuations will be ordered.

“We are evaluating flood prone areas as we speak and we’ll make that call as soon as we think it is necessary,” she said.

She urged motorists stay off the roads to turn around when they approach high water. First responders conducted more than 100 rescues during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and many of them were stranded motorists.

Rescue personnel will not respond during the height of the storm.

The Greenville Utilities Commission already has requested assistance from other public power systems to aid in restoration of electric services if necessary, said Steve Hawley, communications manager.

The utility doesn’t anticipate any threat to the water system because berms have been built and a pump system directs water away from the water treatment plant.

“The big problem we’ve had with some storms have been wind events like Irene, have been huge rain events with flooding like Floyd. We haven’t had an event yet that has been a combination of heavy, heavy rains that cause flooding and heavy, heavy winds that cause a lot of outages,” Hawley said.

“We are prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.

Pitt County Sheriff Neil Elks said he fears previous storms like Floyd, Matthew and Irene might be just dress rehearsals for Florence.

Deputies, emergency communications staff and detention center officers are being divided into two shifts that will work 12 hours, he said.

“This is going to be a dangerous storm, and sadly it will probably be a deadly storm,” Elks said.

Deputies will respond to calls if possible, but he warned the public that deputies will be pulled from the roads when conditions threaten their lives. He urged individuals to limit alcohol consumption in an effort to reduce the potential for trouble.

Elks also urged people to check on neighbors, especially the elderly and individuals with limited mobility.

“It’s sad to say we’ve had this dress rehearsal too many times,” Elks said. 

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com and 329-9570.

CALL 211

Greenville area human service agencies on Tuesday began mustering to coordinate storm aid to storm victims on Tuesday and urged donors to remember the 211 phone number. 

Leaders of the the United Way, Catholic Ministries, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina, Churches Outreach Network and other groups met at the United Way headquarters to help consolidate relief preparations and response.

A major concern is working out logistics for supplies and donations likely to come after the storm. Cally Edwards, Red Cross director for the northeast North Carolina, said it was important to prioritize life saving and essential donations during the beginning.

“Right now we really need to focus on life safety and response, that is our primary focus. So if we get callers, people wondering where they can drop stuff off, encourage them to hold onto it,” she said.

George Young, Eastern Regional Director for the food bank, said they would be accepting, sorting and distributing food donations to partner agencies throughout the event. He said those interested in making donations could do so at their 1712 Union Street collection point.

The nonprofits urged residents with questions regarding available services to call 211, whose operators they would be updating throughout Hurricane Florence and its aftermath.

 

RED CROSS

Edwards urged individuals to download the Red Cross Emergency and Hurricane apps to monitor storm activity and the Pet First Aid -- Red Cross App to obtain emergency advice for pets.

“The first few days are going to be on you. You are going to have to take on some self resilience and prepare,” Edwards said.

Once the storm has passed and recovery begins, volunteers will be needed, Edwards said. She urged individuals to begin the application process by visiting www.redcross.org/enc and clicking on “apply to volunteer.” She urged people to not call the local office because at this time the application process must be done online.

“The focus right now will be on life safety and response,” Edwards said. “At some point there will be an opportunity to donate in kind items but right now I would concentrate on taking care of yourself.”

PET CARE

Greenville’s animal services holding and transfer facility will only be open to house pets if a mandatory evaluation is ordered. It only will be available to individuals who live in Greenville’s city limits.

The Pitt County Animal Shelter, 4550 County Home Road, is serving as the emergency animal shelter for individuals who are entering shelters.

“Once human shelters are open ... our shelter is open to pets,” said Michele Whaley, animal services director. If people aren’t going to the shelter, and they can take their pets with them, she urges individuals to do that.

If pet owners have a crate for their pet they should bring it, she said, along with special food, medicines and copies of vaccination records. She also urged that whether a pet is brought to the shelter or remains at home, owners should put a collar with identification on their animals. The identification could be a simple as writing the owners’ name, address and telephone number with a permanent marker on the collar.

POWER OUTAGES

GUC urged residents to add its emergency hotline number, 1-855-767-2482, to their cell phones to make it easier to call for assistance. Adding their account number in the notes section will keep the information handy.

Residents also should use GUC’s outage map, https://www.guc.com/outage-map, to get real-time updates on outage locations and expected restoration time. It asks customers to not use social media to report an outages.

ECU STUDENTS

East Carolina University has instructed all on-campus students to evacuate by 10 a.m. Wednesday. All classes for the week have been canceled,.

Any student who can’t leave must notify Campus Living at 252-328-4663. The number will be in operation until 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11 and will reopen at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The university plans to send ECU Alert messages regarding next week’s schedule by early afternoon Saturday.

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