With its projected path changing as the week wore on, Hurricane Matthew’s threat to North Carolina was uncertain. But in Johnston, the county, its towns and citizens prepared for the worst.
Johnston County Emergency Management began monitoring Matthew long before the storm threatened the Eastern Seaboard.
On Wednesday, emergency management coordinator Kevin Madsen said he was hopeful Matthew would follow its latest projected path, which had it turning away from the N.C. coast. But if necessary, the county was prepared to open a shelter at 3 p.m. Friday in the First Baptist Church Ministry Center on South Fourth Street in Smithfield. Also, the county was ready to activate its emergency operations center if Matthew turned toward Johnston, Madsen said.
“We’re optimistic the current track will keep it off the coast, but we’re preparing now for at least three inches of rain and wind gusts of 25 to 45 mph,” he said.
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Madsen encouraged Johnstonians to prepare for the storm by ensuring they have a three-day supply of prescription medications, food and clean water. And he encouraged pet owners to make sure their animals have collars with tags, clean water and food, just in case humans had to evacuate and leave their pets behind.
“It should be of minimal cost for most folks,” Madsen said of stocking up on supplies. “It just takes a little bit of planning.”
Madsen encouraged smartphone owners to download the ReadyNC app, which provides emergency-preparedness tips and information on shelters, including which ones are pet friendly.
“Whenever we open a shelter, that app is automatically updated,” he said. “It gets direct updates from our local emergency management coordinators and works that way for every county in North Carolina.”
For more information, or if you need assistance from Johnston County Emergency Management, call 919-989-5050.
In Smithfield, town leaders discussed preparations for Hurricane Matthew at their Tuesday meeting. Among other things, they asked residents to clear storm drains of leaves and other debris.
“Town services continue to prepare for the potential impact of Hurricane Matthew,” Town Manager Mike Scott said. “Current information places the hurricane impacting our area at some level over the coming weekend.”
By Wednesday, Edwards IGA on North Bright Leaf Boulevard had seen a stream of grocery shoppers stocking up on bread and milk, but manager Wendy Madison expected more shoppers in coming days.
“It was pretty steady yesterday,” Madison said on Wednesday. “But I can tell it’s picking up a bit today.”
In addition to bread and milk, Madison said most storm shoppers were also stocking up on canned goods like Vienna sausages and beanie weenies.
“They also get bags of charcoal,” she said, “so they can grill if the power goes out.”
Lowe’s Home Improvement on Bright Leaf Boulevard had yet to see a rush of customers headed for the generators, batteries, flashlights or water, one manager said. But the store was expecting an additional shipment of supplies ahead of Matthew, he said.
The demand Hudson’s Hardware saw for chainsaws and generators shifted along with the storm, said store manager Jamie Boyd. With reports that Matthew seemed destined to travel a more easterly course and do its worst away from Johnston County, Clayton residents went into “wait and see” mode, he said.
“Generators, chainsaws and lamp oil, those are the hot tickets,” Boyd said of Tuesday’s sales.
While central North Carolina might miss the worst of the storm, the coast remained particularly vulnerable, and it knows it. Boyd said his store had seen customers from Wilmington and other parts of Eastern North Carolina make their way to Clayton to buy generators and oil, saying stores back home had run out.
Boyd said Hudson’s inventory of hurricane supplies remained healthy because of ordering ahead. And even though the latest forecast had Matthew sparing most of North Carolina, he said the store was still expecting a shipment of batteries and flashlights. Hudson’s doesn’t expect those items will go to waste, Boyd said.
“There will be an ice storm later this winter,” he said.
Clayton Town Manager Adam Lindsay has been on the job six days, but he is already getting acquainted with the town’s emergency-response procedures. Should conditions deteriorate ahead of the storm, the Clayton Center could become an emergency operations center, where emergency-response departments could work in one central location to improve communication.
“We’re watching the storm like everybody else, hoping that it might miss us,” Lindsay said. “If it doesn’t, we’re making sure we’re ready.”
By midweek, the storm had already forced the postponement of The Shindig, a bluegrass music festival that’s seen rain its last three years. The event has been rescheduled for Sunday, Nov. 13.
As of Wednesday morning, Johnston County schools had made no decision about canceling classes, though many high schools had already moved their Friday games to Thursday.
“We want to be proactive but also not jump the gun and make a decision too soon,” said schools’ spokeswoman Tracey Peedin Jones. “Johnston County Schools is committed to giving parents, students and the community as much advanced notice as possible. We hope to know on Thursday if school will be in session or not in session on Friday.”
Superintendent Ross Renfrow was communicating with principals on storm preparations, such as sandbags for possible flooding, clearing out storm drains and parking buses away from possible falling objects.
West Johnston High School and Princeton Middle/High would be storm shelters if needed, Peedin Jones said.
“Johnston County Schools has a strong foundation for dealing with situations of this nature,” she said.
“No matter the direction the storm takes, we will be keeping people in its path in our thoughts and prayers in hopes that the damage will be minimal,” Peedin Jones said.