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Michael poses local threat

Even though Hurricane Michael will weaken considerably as it moves into North Carolina today (Thursday), the once-powerful storm will impact the Roanoke-Chowan area.

After pounding the Florida panhandle with history-making 150 mph winds upon making landfall just after 12 noon on Wednesday, Hurricane Michael moved rapidly to the north. As of Wednesday afternoon, it was predicted to be a tropical storm or a tropical depression when it moves across the local area today. That fact has local Emergency Management (EM) directors keeping a close eye on the forecast.

“If it remains on its predicted path, that puts the center of circulation of this tropical system right over us sometimes later in the day on Thursday,” said Hertford County EM Director Chris Smith.

Smith said he expects winds to increase steadily on Thursday, starting the day out with a 20-25 mph stiff breeze and then gaining in intensity as high as 45 mph gusts in the early morning hours (1-7 a.m.) of Friday.

“It looks like for us that our highest wind values will come on the back side of the storm,” Smith said. “Those winds will come from the northwest, a change from what we’ll see out of the southeast for most of the daylight hours on Thursday.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service placed interior sections of northeastern North Carolina, to include the R-C area, under a Wind Advisory beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday until 12 noon Friday. That means winds of at least 35 mph are expected. Winds this strong can make driving difficult, especially for high profile vehicles.

Smith said rainfall amounts should vary between two to five inches.

“Again, that’s just an estimate by the National Weather Service, as Hertford County is shown right on the edge of 2-to-5 inches and 3-to-7 inches,” Smith noted. “It appears, at least by the early forecasts, that the heaviest rains will be to our south and west.”

Smith added that flash flooding may occur during heavy downpours, but he expects the majority of those cases isolated to typical low lying areas of the county.

He did warn of the possibility of downed trees and loss of electrical power locally.

“I would suggest staying off the roads, especially between midnight Thursday and dawn on Friday as that is the time where the strongest winds are predicted,” Smith stressed.

“We’re not at the point where this storm is causing us to issue a state of emergency or opening a shelter,” he added. “We feel that with the forecast available today (Wednesday) we’ll be able to handle most issues within the capabilities of local response. We will continue to monitor this storm and I encourage local residents to do the same.”

Bertie County EM Director Mitch Cooper hopes this isn’t a case of déjà vu, but he still wants his county’s residents to be prepared, and his department is already taking precautions for Hurricane Michael.

“We’re going under an active State of Emergency (Thursday) beginning at 8 a.m., and then open an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at 12 noon,” Cooper said on Wednesday.

A while later it was announced that in preparation for the impacts of Hurricane Michael, Bertie County local government offices will close at 12 noon Thursday, Oct. 11.

“We’re also working on a sheltering plan for refuge for our citizens because of the projected winds gusts of 45 (mph) or above, and so much of our population living in manufactured homes,” he continued.

Cooper said that refuge will be located in the Cashie Convention Center on County Farm Road. It will open at 5 p.m. Thursday and remain open until the storm passes by on Friday.

He added that the refuge will supply water, MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) and cots. Bertie residents will be reminded of its opening by way of the county’s Call System.

“We want to keep everything in a normal operation as much as possible so we can act quickly; that’s why we’re putting everything in place,” he acknowledged.

Cooper said rain projections are expected to reach 2-6 inches depending on which side on the county one is located on, because he says they expect the center of circulation of the storm to come directly over Bertie County.

“The worst side of the storm is projected to be to the west,” he admitted. “If that changes and it heads more toward the coast we could see a higher potential for more damage.”

If that does happen, the EMS director says there could be some power outages, and downed trees.

“But as fast as this storm’s moving, we should be able to recover quickly on Friday and coordinate with the power companies and get people back in their homes as quickly as possible,” he determined.

Cooper admits it’s too early to make a comparison to Florence, but does say that people need to have a healthy sense of caution.

“They don’t need to let their guard down, because it’s not expected to be nowhere as bad as we thought it would be with Florence,” he said. “It does bring back a lot of memories of (2016 Tropical Storm) Julia moving as fast as it is with the cold front; but Julia was dumping a lot more rain. We really should keep our guard up; so that’s why we’re making plans to be more fast-acting.”

Cooper says the speed in which Hurricane Michael is moving is unprecedented.

“Usually they run about 10-12 miles an hour across land,” he said. “But we’ve got some projections saying this storm’s going to be moving at 21 miles an hour; which is something I’ve never seen in my history and I can’t think of anyone I’ve spoken with that’s ever seen that either. That’s why we’re gearing up and being prepared.”

Cooper says there will be no curfew restricting things like the sale of alcohol.

“We’re really hoping Friday morning the sun is shining and we can make (the storm) inactive and carry on with our lives,” he declared. “We need things in place so if we need to call for help, we can do it without restrictions.”

Cooper said there are no flooding concerns at the moment, but if winds come in and knock out electrical lines around the county, it could be as long as 12-15 hours with no power.

“We don’t see it being a long-term recovery process, but we do see the potential for dangers from thunderstorms and possibility of tornadoes,” he said. “That’s why we’ll have the refuge shelters so people would have somewhere to go.”

Ronnie Storey, Northampton County’s EM Coordinator, reported his staff was on notice and everything was ready as Hurricane Michael makes its way towards North Carolina. Most of the prep work had already been done in anticipation of Hurricane Florence and remained in place after that storm passed through last month.

“Everything was already fueled up and ready to go,” he explained.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Storey said the forecast for Northampton County was 4-6 inches of rain and 25-30 mph winds, with gusts up to 45-50 mph possible. Residents should start seeing impacts from the storm beginning Thursday morning through Thursday night.

“Water is probably going to be the main issue,” he said, estimating low-lying spots which are usually affected by heavy thunderstorms may see some flooding.

There is also some potential for winds causing broken tree limbs and spotty power outages. Storey doesn’t foresee any widespread outages, but said he’s already been in contact with Dominion Energy and Roanoke Electric Cooperative. Both have crews ready and waiting to take care of any outages if they occur.

“Once again, we’re going to plan for the worst, and hope for the best,” Storey concluded.

North Carolina officials are also monitoring Michael as the storm makes its way into the Tar Heel State.

On Wednesday, Governor Roy Cooper declared a State of Emergency and waived certain transportation rules.

“I’m taking action to get North Carolina ready for Hurricane Michael, and I encourage people across our state to get ready as well,” Gov. Cooper said. “Make no mistake—Hurricane Michael is a dreadful storm, and it poses serious risks to North Carolina.”

Gov. Cooper signed Executive Order No. 74, declaring a State of Emergency for 66 North Carolina counties. The order will be expanded to additional counties if needed. The State of Emergency authorizes the use of state resources to help local governments respond to the storm. It is also a first step in requesting federal or state assistance to individuals and homeowners if needed. In addition, it activates the state law against price gouging, or charging too much during a time of emergency.

Gov. Cooper also signed Executive Order No. 75, temporarily waiving the cap on maximum hours of service restrictions for trucks and heavy vehicles traveling in and through North Carolina and size and weight restrictions for trucks. The order will help farmers harvest and transport their crops and livestock more quickly ahead of the storm. It can also help storm response vehicles and equipment moving into or through the state.

Parts of North Carolina still reeling from Hurricane Florence could see sustained tropical storm force winds from Michael. Winds will be strong enough to bring down trees weakened by Florence and to rip tarps from roofs of Florence-damaged homes.

Coastal areas can also expect storm surge and coastal flooding. Beaches already weakened by Florence’s towering surge may be especially vulnerable.

Gov. Cooper said state emergency management officials are working with local and federal counterparts to prepare North Carolina for possible impacts from Michael. He has activated 150 National Guard troops who. He also urged North Carolinians to take steps to prepare their families.