ELIZABETHTOWN — Shelters in Bladen County’s public schools are to open at noon Wednesday and the community college is the latest to announce a closing ahead of Hurricane Florence.
The Category 4 storm is set to make landfall along the North Carolina coast. Projections early Tuesday afternoon targeted an area just north of Wilmington where the eye might pass; the enormity of the storm will mean a wide swath between Charleston, South Carolina, and Norfolk, Virginia will feel significant impact.
Florence’s slow movement is creating forecasts of torrential rain and flooding lasting days.
Bladen Lakes Primary School, East Arcadia School, East Bladen High School and West Bladen High School are shelter locations operated by the county’s Emergency Management Department. The pet friendly shelter will be located at West Bladen.
Bladen County Schools announced Tuesday morning that no classes or extra-curricular activities will be held Wednesday through Friday. Wednesday is an optional teacher workday.
Athletics teams were busy trying to reschedule, either moving games up in the week or postponing until after the storm. Football games first set for Friday involving West Bladen hosting Red Springs and East Bladen traveling to South Columbus won’t be played this week.
Bladen Community College is closing at 3 p.m. Wednesday. The closure will last through Saturday, at a minimum. This includes all activities and workforce continuing education classes. Updates will be distributed through the college’s ReGroup messaging system, on the college website, college social media, and through area media outlets.
Most forecasts had called for the storm to make landfall Thursday. A map showing the cone of probable movement, released at 2 p.m. Tuesday by the Natioal Weather Service, indicated an early Friday arrival with the storm still in eastern North Carolina 24 hours later.
Tropical storm force winds, once expected to be felt in Bladen County on Wednesday, are now forecast for the overnight hours into early Thursday morning.
Bladen County is well within the boundary the NWS is predicting will see moderate flash flooding. On a map predicting inches of rain, Bladen is near the board of two areas, one getting 6 to 10 inches and the other 10 to 15 inches.
Some areas are forecast for 15 to 20 inches of rain.
Mandatory evacuations in North Carolina are handled by local authorities. Gov. Roy Cooper, however, issued one on top of that for the barrier islands at the Outer Banks.
At 2 p.m. Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said Florence was 340 miles wide with hurricane force winds extending 60 miles from the center. Tropical storm force winds reach up to 170 miles from the eye of the storm.
The maximum sustained winds were 130 mph. It was centered about 845 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear and moving west-northwest at 17 mph.
The probability of a land strike in North Carolina is high, according to this image from the National Weather Service.
Areas east to northeast of Bladen County are expecting the most rainfall from Hurricane Florence.