Unpredictable storm still life threatening

Published 10:41 pm Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Gov. Ralph Northam urged Virginia citizens at a Wednesday evening press conference to stay alert for the impacts of Hurricane Florence, regardless of Virginia’s improved outlook in the past 48 hours.

“This storm remains a threat to Virginia,” Northam said at the Richmond press conference. “We expect tropical storm conditions such as high winds, tidal storm surge and severe rainfall across the entire state.”

It’s for that reason that the mandatory evacuation Northam ordered on Monday will remain in effect. The order for Zone A residents to evacuate went into effect at 8 a.m. on Tuesday. Zone A includes the low-lying coastal areas of Hampton Roads, the Middle Peninsula, the Northern Neck and the Eastern Shore, Northam said.


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The zone also encompasses a large amount of marsh and wetlands adjacent to the Chuckatuck Creek, Nansemond River, Bennett’s Creek, the tributary adjacent to the River Front and Arbor Meadows communities, Streeter Creek and the James River, according to a Tuesday press release by City Manager Patrick Roberts.

“If you’re already out of harm’s way, please stay there,” Northam said. “Even if you’re not on the coast, this storm will affect you.”

Hurricane Florence weakened to a Category 3 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center’s update at 5 p.m. on Friday, and projections have been gradually moving its landfall farther south along the coastlines of North Carolina and South Carolina.

At 5 p.m. Friday, the storm was moving northwest at 16 miles per hour with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. This general motion — accompanied by a gradual decrease in forward speed — is expected through Saturday.

The center of Hurricane Florence is forecast to move over the southwestern Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Wednesday, then approach the coast of North Carolina or South Carolina on Thursday and Friday. The storm will then move slowly near the coastline on Saturday, the National Hurricane Center reports.

Florence is expected to slow down considerably after approaching the North Carolina coast, then slowly turn westward near the coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina on Friday and Saturday.

No significant changes were required to the previous advisory track, which still shows Florence moving slowly westward across South Carolina and western North Carolina on Sunday, followed by a northward motion up the Appalachian mountain chain on Monday, the National Hurricane Center reports.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Mike Rusnak said the Hampton Roads forecast remained consistent as of the 5 p.m. update on Friday. But while the main effects of the storm will be farther south on the South Carolina and North Carolina coastlines, residents in Hampton Roads are still facing tropical storm weather.

“It’s still going to be pretty stormy in Hampton Roads, with moderate to heavy rain starting (Thursday) afternoon,” Rusnak said on Wednesday evening. Total rainfall is expected to be between 3 to 5 inches and wind gusts between 30 to 40 mph starting late Thursday evening into Friday evening. “It’s not as bad as it appeared to be a couple of days ago, but it’s still going to be pretty stormy.”

One of the reasons the evacuation order is not being rescinded is to prevent death and injury on roadways that could occur if evacuees attempt to return home when the rain and wind speeds pick up on Thursday, Friday and beyond.

Dr. Jeff Stern, leader of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said at the Wednesday press conference that there’s “still a danger and a very real risk when you look at the National Hurricane Center’s wind projections and the arrival of these tropical-force winds.”

“There’s a chance that those winds would reach the levels that inhibit travel back or shut down bridges,” Stern said. “We don’t want to bring people back into that.”

It’s the first time that the state of Virginia has implemented an evacuation since the Know Your Zone regional, tiered evacuation system was established last year, specifically to move as many as the 245,000 that reside in Zone A, according to Stern.

“We feel that we made that decision appropriately based on the information that we had,” he said.

Those that haven’t evacuated from Zone A are urged to do so while there’s still time. Folks are encouraged to check on neighbors that may need assistance and follow directions from first responders on duty, Stern said.

“The message has been real clear: it’s a mandatory evacuation,” he said. “We’ve asked you to stay away. The governor made very clear in the announcement this week that we asked people to be prepared to stay away for up to a week due to the earlier predicted floods.

“The storm has drastically changed direction in the last 48 hours. I think it surprised a lot of forecasters around the country. It certainly kept all of our partner agencies vigilant and maintaining the full response posture.”

Northam added that these evacuated areas — especially the low-lying areas — in Zone A are still at risk for tidal surge, downed trees and loss of electricity.

“I would remind people that if they are in harm’s way, it will be more difficult for our first responders to get to them (in Zone A),” Northam said. “I’m worried about the health and welfare of all Virginians. I also worry about our first responders.”

He urged those that choose not to evacuate to consider the lives of first responders, as well.

“They have families just like everybody else. We want to keep all Virginians safe, and that’s the purpose of doing this.”

Roberts announced on Wednesday afternoon that the King’s Fork High School emergency shelter at 351 Kings Fork Road would open at 8 p.m. on Wednesday as originally planned, but the Nansemond River High School emergency shelter would not open. This is due to the change in the track of Hurricane Florence and the reduced impact that’s expected for Suffolk as of Wednesday, according to the press release.

“We will make further determinations related to the status of emergency shelters moving forward on Thursday afternoon,” the press release states.

Suffolk City Offices will be closed Thursday and Friday, and all city facilities will be closed through Sunday. Tours and scheduled special events have been canceled.

Suffolk Public Schools will be closed for staff and students through Friday, and Parks and Recreation’s before- and after-school programs are also canceled.

The Suffolk Emergency Operations Call Center can be reached at 514-4570 and is currently staffed 24 hours a day for citizens seeking storm-related information for this weather event. The Suffolk Police Department non-emergency number is 923-2350, and the number for non-emergency, roadway-related issues is 514-7600.

The city of Suffolk has a free emergency and non-emergency notification system. This system will send email updates regarding important information. More information can be accessed via suffolk.onthealert.com.

City updates can also be found on the city’s Facebook page or on Twitter @CityofSuffolk.

Visit VAEmergency.gov/hurricanes for more information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management that will help you “Make a Kit, Get a Plan, and Stay Informed,”

Visit knowyourzoneva.org to find out if your address falls under an evacuation order.