Hurricane Irma remains dangerous to North Carolina, though it will likely arrive Monday as a weakened tropical storm unlikely to cause prolonged flooding, state emergency officials said Thursday.
As Irma churned toward Puerto Rico with winds topping 160 mph, it appeared likely to make an inland path across the Carolinas with significantly slower winds. Because it is a quick-moving storm and because river levels are low statewide, North Carolina is unlikely to see flooding on a par with Hurricane Matthew’s damage in 2016.
“Just because it might be tropical storm strength, don’t think this storm isn’t going to be dangerous,” Gov. Roy Cooper said at a Raleigh press conference.
Cooper stressed that the storm could strike any part of North Carolina, where all 100 counties remain under a state of emergency. Inland counties face threats of wind damage and power outages from downed trees, while the mountains could see mudslides and the coast should expect heavy surf and rip currents.
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“North Carolina will feel significant impact from Hurricane Irma by Monday,” National Weather Service spokesman Nick Petro said.
The storm will be gaining speed and will be affecting the state Monday and Tuesday, according to the update, and will likely leave by Wednesday.
Irma was moving toward the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday afternoon. South Florida came under hurricane and storm surge watches Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center reported.
“Our hearts go out to those who have been in the storm’s immediate path and already picking up the pieces,” Cooper said.
State Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said the state has set up stage areas in Kinston, Greensboro and Asheville, expecting Irma to hit any or all of them. State officials have contacted the Red Cross about making sure enough volunteers are trained for emergencies over the weekend.
All state road work will be suspended Friday and lanes will be opened to maximize traffic volume, Cooper said. So far, he said, no reports of gas price gouging have come to the state Attorney General’s Office.
He urged residents in Irma’s path to stock up on supplies only as needed and to make plans to evacuate if necessary.
“It is too soon to know how North Carolina will be impacted,” Cooper said, “but it is not too soon to get ready.”