Widespread power outages and downed trees are expected across the Triangle as Hurricane Florence heads toward North Carolina.
“It’s coming very strong,” Durham City-County Emergency Management Director Jim Groves said Tuesday. “If any of you were around here with [Hurricane] Fran in 1996, we are expecting that and plus some.”
Durham Public Schools will operate on a three-hour early release Thursday and be closed on Friday. All after-school activities will be canceled beginning Thursday afternoon through Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Wake County Schools will dismiss students 2.5 hours early Thursday. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will close entirely Thursday and Friday.
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The region may get 10 to 12 inches of rain from the storm, Groves said. Places that have flooded before are likely to again, he said.
Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson said some water is being released from the Little River and Lake Michie reservoirs ahead of the storm, and both will be monitored. “We expect they will be able to handle these conditions,” he said Tuesday.
Groves urged residents to check on their loved ones, neighbors and especially the elderly — and also to secure loose items outside.
“Get anything that can fly through the air off your patio or back porch,” he said.
The local pre-storm emergency shelter for Durham residents will be at Hillside High School, 3727 Fayetteville Road. It will open at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12.
“Then after landfall, depending on how things look how big it is and how bad it is, we’ll be seeking out places that have power,” Groves said.
Bahama Ruritan Club, 8202 Stagville Road, will be the emergency shelter for the northern part of the county. It will open at noon on Wednesday, Sept. 12.
People can take emergency shelter there until the strong winds come at 40 mph sustained and 58 mph gusts. Groves doesn’t want anyone out on the roads driving in those conditions, he said.
Emergency shelters are for residents who do not feel safe in their homes because their homes are trailers or have flooded before, he said.
Other shelters for residents after the storm could open at Northern, Riverside and Southern high schools. Groves said they could open all the schools if needed, and turn Hillside from an emergency shelter into a longer term shelter. The high school shelters would open after winds die down to below 30 miles per hour, after the hurricane.
If going to a shelter, Groves said to bring sleeping bags, pillows, eyeglasses and contacts and whatever else is needed to be comfortable. No coolers, alcohol or illegal drugs are allowed in the shelters. However, pets are welcome in the Hillside High School shelter. The Bahama shelter is not yet equipped for pets, Groves confirmed Tuesday night.
Durham County Chief of Staff Drew Cummings said that Urban Ministries of Durham homeless shelter will add 20 to 30 more cots to its existing 180 beds. Housing for New Hope and Open Table Ministry will also do outreach to homeless individuals.
Durham County is part of a state partnership in which it opens an emergency shelter for residents of Pender and New Hanover counties if they are evacuated. That shelter would be at Walltown Recreation Center, but only open to Pender and New Hanover County residents if the state decides it will open. As of Tuesday evening, the state did not request the shelter.
‘Be responsible for your own safety’
“Please please please understand this. Responders, depending on how many trees are down in the roadways, and utility down, if they’re flooded, may not be able to get out. Within hours, potentially even days depending on how bad it is. So be responsible for your own safety,” Groves said.
Be prepared to be on your own for 72 hours, he said, like “camping at home, without a campfire.”
Groves said areas prone to flooding in Durham are at Pilot and Fayetteville streets, off Morning Glory Avenue and parts of South Alston Avenue and Drew Street in the city. In the county, Glenn School Road near Club Boulevard could flood, he said. There are some isolated areas of potential flooding, he said, including Hope Valley Road at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Ferguson said those are places where roads might flood, not necessarily nearby homes.
One first responder was killed during Hurricane Fran in Durham County, and residents were without power for several days.
County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said she remembers Fran, and Florence seems similar.
“It seems like a deja vu — only time will tell,” Reckhow said. “When we were looking after the fact, many residents didn’t get their power restored for two weeks, which was really tough for them.”
The Herald-Sun reported on Sept. 7, 1996 that Bahama volunteer firefighter Ricky Dorsey, 36, was killed while answering a call with firefighter Shane Clements during Hurricane Fran on Sept. 5, 1996. A tree crashed on the cab of their fire truck, killing Dorsey and injuring Clements, The Herald-Sun reported. Three people in Durham were killed during Hurricane Fran — the other two died in car accidents, The Herald-Sun reported in 1996.
Groves said that nationally, fire and law enforcement personnel are not sent out during 40 miles per hour winds and 58 miles per hour gusts, though the chief of each department has discretion.