ELIZABETHTOWN — Up to 30 inches of rain is forecast for Bladen County as Hurricane Florence slowly moves through this weekend.
The Category 2 storm approached the coast near Wilmington and the state border with South Carolina late Thursday evening. It packed 100 mph wind, remained very wide and had sent nearly 1,000 people into shelters at five Bladen County schools.
“What they’re saying is 26 inches for Elizabethtown, and 30 in Riegelwood,” said Bradley Kinlaw. He’s the director of Emergency Management for the county. “There will be a lot of roadway flooding. There’ll be some houses in low-lying areas that will be flooded for sure. That’s probably pushing some historic amounts.”
The county was placed under curfew from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m., effective immediately. Elizabethtown had inacted a curfew during a morning meeting for the same times.
“There’s no reason for anybody to be out on the roads — everything is closed,” said Elizabethtown Mayor Sylvia Campbell.
The storm is expected to linger in southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina through the weekend before beginning to move across the Palmetto State and eventually into Kentucky. More than 80,000 people were without power at 8 p.m., and more than 12,000 had gone into shelters.
“The storm movement has slowed to 5 mph, so it’s taken quite a while for it to get here,” said Greg Martin, the county manager. “The winds are really going to be picking up this morning.”
Kinlaw said the community had responded well to pleas to evacuate or find safe cover and remain there.
“Based on current shelter capacity, they’ve done good. In downtown Elizabethtown right now, I only see a couple of vehicles,” he said about 7:30 p.m.
The scene was the same earlier in the afternoon — a virtual ghost town rather than the come-and-go nature that packs Broad and Poplar streets.
The five shelters are at West Bladen High School, East Bladen High School, East Arcadia School, Bladen Lakes Primary School and Elizabethtown Middle School. West Bladen neared capacity late Thursday afternoon and restricted entrance to those with special needs and those with animals. It was the only one of the five established as pet friendly, and special needs specific.
Kinlaw said the concerns of he and his staff haven’t changed.
“We’ve planned on 120 mph winds and 20 to 25 inches of rain,” he said. “So, from our standpoint, nothing has changed as far as concerns.”
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham likened Florence to Hurricane Harvey, the storm that crushed the nation’s fourth-largest city, Houston, a year ago.
“It truly is really about the whole size of this storm,” Graham said. “The larger and slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact — and we have that.”
President Donald Trump tweeted that the Federal Emergency Management Association and first responders are “supplied and ready.”
Schools closed as far south as Georgia, in caution due to the storm’s unpredictable nature. It once was forecast to enter near Wilmington and continue a northwesterly track that would have dumped 2 feet of rain closer to Greenville and caused flooding from the Appalachian Mountains to the coast.
In Bladen County, classes ended in public schools on Tuesday. Bladen Community College got through classes early Wednesday afternoon before calling it quits for the week.
The 26th annual Dublin Peanut Festival, which began with a scholarship pageant last weekend, had its big day on Saturday called off.
Forecasters’ European climate model predicted 2 trillion to 11 trillion gallons of rain would fall on North Carolina over the next week. On Thursday, more than 10 million people along the Atlantic Seaboard were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.
Duke Energy, the nation’ second-largest power company, said outages could last for weeks. It estimated 75 percent of its 4 million customers would lose power.
Heavy surf crashes the dunes at high tide in Nags Head on Thursday as Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast.
Downtown Elizabethtown, forecast to get 26 inches of rain from Hurricane Florence, was mostly a ghost town Thursday.
At the Corner Cafe, the message was clear.
President Donald Trump on Thursday vowed support is ready for those impacted by Hurricane Florence.
Rainfall amounts are expected to hit 26 inches in Elizabethtown and 30 inches in Riegelwood, said Bradley Kinlaw, the Bladen County director of Emergency Management.
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