ELIZABETHTOWN — Wind in Bladen County has gusted to 50 mph and is expected to peak in the 80s Friday afternoon about 2 as Hurricane Florence bruises southeastern North Carolina.
The National Weather Center said landfall was made near Wrightsville Beach at 7:15 a.m. with estimated maximum winds of 90 mph and a minimum central pressure estimate of 958 millibars. The storm is about 400 miles wide.
Bladen County was under curfew from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m., had shelters swelled to about 1,000 people and was braced for 30 inches of rain in Riegelwood and 26 inches in Elizabethtown, said Bradley Kinlaw, the county’s Emergency Management director.
The shelter at East Bladen High School is on backup generator power. About 3,300 in the county are without power, Kinlaw said.
“Some roads, like 701 North and 87 East, are already blocked, along with several side roads,” Kinlaw said.
EMS crews were grounded pending Kinlaw’s OK on any calls.
At 7 a.m., Florence was centered 5 miles east of Wilmington with forward movement at 6 mph. Meteorologists reported it making landfall about 7:45. Hurricane-force winds extended 90 miles from its center, and tropical storm force winds went up to 195 miles.
The National Hurricane Center said a guage in Emerald Isle, about 84 miles north of Wilmington, reported 6.3 feet of inundation. The areas north of the storm were expected to bear the brunt of the rainfall.
Isolated areas near the coast were forecast to get up to 40 inches of rain. More than 80,000 people lost pwer; more than 12,000 went to shelters. Duke Energy estimated 75 percent of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas would have outages.
The estimated economic impact has been put at $10 billion to $60 billion.
Kinlaw said all of the fire departments in the county were manned, and EMS units are in most communities.
”I think we have about 15 units spread across the county,” Kinlaw said. “Last I heard, about an hour ago, law enforcement and the sheriff’s office is still out and about answering calls. We grounded EMS. They’re only allowed out on my approval.”
Bladenboro, a community prone to flooding, is the site of staging for a swift water rescue team from Vermont. Another team from Vermont is in the Kelly community.
Five National Guard high-wheel vehicles are also staged in the county.
“I’ve been assured when its halfway safe to move out, they’ll bombard us with resources,” Kinlaw said.
Kinlaw said five fire engines from the western part of the state arrived. An incident management team from Oklahoma is alongside the county staff in the command center at the courthouse.
“They’re keeping us organized,” Kinlaw said. “I’m very, very thankful for that.”
The county also received an EMS strike team, meaning five ambulances. An additional 420 cots were secured before the storm picked up overnight, but a truck bringing 250 more was unable to arrive Thursday night, Kinlaw said.
Damage estimates for the county will begin to roll in as the day progresses. Kinlaw said there was roof damage at the Bladen County Emergency Services Training Center in White Lake. Otherwise, it was too early to tell and the peak of the storm was yet to come.
Residents able to connect on social media are asked to use #bladenwx in an effort to help county crews abreast of what is happening.
”I think our teams in the field are ready to rock and roll at this point,” Kinlaw said. “We’ll address life-threatening situations and determine as they happen. We’re definitely poised, as soon as its safe to move, to get out.”
Southeastern North Carolina, in the 5 a.m. prediction model, is still forecast for the most rain from the storm. Areas near Craven and Carteret counties were reporting very high rainfall totals Thursday night.
The projected path of Hurricane Florence remains near Bladen County, moving toward South Carolina later on Friday and eventually spinning toward Kentucky early next week.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or email@example.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.