Residents of the Carolinas emerged from a long Labor Day weekend to find themselves in an agonizingly familiar situation: watching and waiting as a hurricane slowly makes its way up the coast.
Tuesday afternoon’s update from the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center showed Dorian rambling up the Florida coast at 6 mph, with sustained winds of 110 mph. The storm was losing strength, the Hurricane Center noted, but expanding in size, spreading out as much as 15 miles in all directions.
South Carolina residents started seeing the effects of the storm late Tuesday, while North Carolina is expected to feel its first impact by 8 a.m. Wednesday.
In a Tuesday afternoon news conference, North Carolina’s governor Roy Cooper urged residents to take the storm and its accompanying evacuation orders seriously.
“Start moving well before the storm in order to get to safety. Do not try to ride it out,” Cooper said.
Late Tuesday night, the White House and Cooper’s office announced that President Trump had approved North Carolina’s Emergency Declaration, ordering federal assistance to the state in the form of funding and disaster relief efforts from federal agencies.
As residents and government agencies wait to see if Dorian strengthens, weakens or moves even slightly off course, residents — on the coast and to a lesser degree, inland — were busy getting prepared.
On Tuesday, members of three swift-water rescue teams were making their way to a staging area at the N.C. National Guard Armory in Kinston. The armory is home to the 690th Brigade Support Battalion, which provides logistical support during military deployments and when needed for service to the state.
Capt. Timothy Carlson was at the Kinston armory Tuesday as tanker trucks and other equipment rolled in.
”We’re ready to do our duty,” Carlson said.
A dozen members of the Cary Fire Department’s water rescue unit arrived at the armory Tuesday morning, ready to be dispatched later, if needed. Capt. Chad Thomason said several members of the group had conducted rescues and evacuations around the Little River in Harnett County last year during Hurricane Florence. They came back this time “for the opportunity to be a part of a state team, to participate in something bigger than themselves.”
Haunted by Florence
Many of those watching and worrying still haven’t recovered from Hurricane Florence, which ravaged the Carolinas almost one year ago.
In New Hanover County, the memories of that storm are so fresh that Steven Still, the county’s emergency management director, referred to Dorian as “Florence” two times during a briefing Tuesday.
“We have individuals that are in travel trailers, mobile homes, structures that have not yet had the full length of time to be improved and the roofs put on,” Still said.
New Hanover County is opening shelters at two local elementary schools Wednesday morning, with a total capacity for about 200 beds. The county is prepared to open more.
Inland, Gov. Cooper said a lesson learned from Florence is the need for “mega shelters,” noting that two large shelters will operate in the Triangle. One in Durham opened Tuesday evening and one in Clayton for people with specialized medical needs will open on Wednesday.
As of Tuesday, there was a state-issued mandatory evacuation order for Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Figure Eight Island and Wrightsville Beach. Further north, Cooper also issued a mandatory evacuation of barrier islands, including the Outer Banks, Shackleford Banks, Bogue Banks and Bald Head Island.
In Wilmington, classes have been canceled this week on the UNC campus ahead of the storm, with students asked to evacuate. East Carolina University in Greenville has also canceled classes, as have many community colleges in coastal areas.
When the pirate goes to the bathroom . . .
In Emerald Isle on Tuesday evening, there were indicators that a storm was coming: red flags on the beach to discourage swimmers, sheets of plywood on the windows at Bert’s Surf Shop, and the life-sized pirate who stands sentry at Island Water Sports had been moved into the ladies’ bathroom for safe keeping.
”When the pirate goes into the bathroom, that’s a sign: Either it’s the end of the season, or a hurricane is coming,” said Ann Borden, who helps run the business with her friend, Don Carpenter.
After 31 years in the business, Carpenter said, he’s learned a few tricks. He closes the business several days before a hurricane is expected to hit, to give him time to store his 12 rental jet skis, 30 kayaks and 30 paddle boards. He takes up every other board in his piers, to allow water from the Bogue Sound to flow through, to reduce the amount of damage, and he strings nets outside the piers to catch debris that might blow from other people’s property.
Like many others on the island, Carpenter had heavy damage from Hurricane Florence, and this year’s business was off by about a third, he said, because so many rental properties on the island had not been repaired in time for summer tourists.
He’s hoping Dorian — now a Category 2 storm — picks up speed, so it doesn’t sit and batter the coast and his life’s investment.
After that, Carpenter said, he just hopes to get to October and the end of hurricane season.
Staff writers Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan and Adam Wagner contributed to this report