MYRTLE BEACH, N.C. (September 13, 2018) -- Utility crews from as far away as California and Canada have been brought to North Carolina to respond to what could be millions of power outages following Hurricane Florence.
As the crews gathered near the State Capitol in Raleigh on Thursday, dozens of trucks clogged the parking lots and lined the streets. Cherry pickers jutted into the darkening sky, and rusty utility pole drills stood at the ready.
With Duke Energy expecting up to 3 million power outages for its 4 million customers, power companies will need an extra hand.
New Brunswick, Canada-based Holland Power Services says it sent 100 vehicles and more than 250 workers to help Duke’s restoration efforts. A mile-long convoy of repair trucks could be seen moving between staging points in Raleigh.
So far, utilities have reported 80,000 customers without power because of Florence.
North Carolina’s top judge has given lawyers and law enforcement a break with court and litigation deadlines in more than a dozen coastal counties because of Hurricane Florence.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin says court filings due between Thursday and next Monday and civil and criminal actions required to be initiated during the same period in those counties can wait because of “catastrophic conditions” resulting from Florence.
Martin’s written order says those filings and actions can now be turned in by Sept. 28 and still be considered “timely filed.”
The deadline deferral applies to the 14 counties where mandatory evacuation orders have been issued. Those counties are Beaufort, Brunswick, Carteret, Craven, Currituck, Dare, Hyde, Jones, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pender, Sampson and Tyrrell.
State law gives the chief justice the authority to extend such filing deadlines.
The North Carolina Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice has evacuated several thousand adult and juvenile offenders and staff from facilities threatened by the effects of Hurricane Florence.
More than 3,000 offenders have been relocated from facilities in the path of Hurricane Florence. Four county jails have also been evacuated with more than 300 offenders housed temporarily in state facilities.
A news release from the division Wednesday said all adult offenders affected by the move will be allowed to make a free phone call to a family member over the weekend.
The division said leaders made the decision earlier in the week to evacuate three juvenile detention centers and relocate inmates to inland facilities within the system. Officials said 26 youth were moved and their families notified.
The news release said all offenders will be moved back to the affected facilities once the storm subsides and it’s deemed safe for operations to continue.
Power outages in North Carolina have increased as a weakened and slower Hurricane Florence moves closer to the coast.
The two major electric utilities covering the state —Duke Energy and Dominion— and a consortium of electric cooperatives reported more than 80,000 customers without power as of early Thursday evening. That doesn’t include numbers from dozens of city-operated electricity providers.
Almost two-thirds of the reported outages originated in Carteret County, along the coast about 100 miles (161 kilometers) northeast of Wilmington, North Carolina. There were also several thousand outages each in Craven, Pamlico and Onslow counties.
The numbers are expected to soar as the storm’s winds and torrential rains sweep over more land. Duke anticipates 1 million to 3 million of their 4 million customers in the Carolinas will lose power from Florence.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says there are over 12,000 people in 126 shelters as the first effects of Hurricane Florence begin to batter the state.
Cooper spoke at a news conference Thursday afternoon with state emergency management officials. The governor said tens of thousands are without power and roads are beginning to flood along the coast.
The governor said those were “early warnings of the days to come.”
Cooper says officials are also in the process of opening more shelters because demand is expected to continue to increase.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam says residents should shelter in place and stay off the roads as Hurricane Florence starts to come ashore in the Carolinas and its effects make their way north.
Northam spoke at a news conference Thursday with emergency management officials. He says parts of Virginia will likely see tropical storm-force winds, flooding and several inches (centimeters) of rain.
Although the forecast for Virginia is less severe than earlier in the week, Northam says “now is not the time to let down our guard.”
He notes that forecasts for the weekend show a continued threat to southwest Virginia as the storm is expected to make a gradual northerly turn.
Jeff Stern is the state’s coordinator of emergency management. He says there are nearly 400 people in shelters across the state.
A flight-tracking service says airlines have canceled more than 1,500 flights through Saturday.
FlightAware says that was the number as of Thursday evening.
At least 140 flights were canceled Thursday in both Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, although that amounted to only around 8 percent of flights at the sprawling Charlotte airport. Several airports along the coast were virtually shut down.
South Carolina’s most popular tourist destination is like a ghost town.
North Myrtle Beach was nearly empty Thursday as the first bands of heavy rain from Hurricane Florence approached.
A few locals briefly walked into the sand but were quickly sandblasted back by stiff winds.
One man tried to skimboard, but gave up after a few minutes as winds from the land cut down the waves. He called the ocean “Lake Myrtle” as he walked back to his car.
There was several hundred feet (meters) of sand between the dunes and ocean as a low tide approached around 5 p.m. Thursday. The sky occasionally spit a drop or two of rain, but the steady rain bands remained to the north.
A police officer sat nearby to talk to anyone who ventured too close to the surf.
The area called the Grand Strand attracts 18 million visitors a year. On Thursday, every restaurant, beachwear shop and mini golf course was closed.
Hurricane Florence is gradually slowing and weakening as its eye nears land.
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the Category 2 storm was centered about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 155 miles (250 kilometers) east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Its forward movement was 5 mph (7 kph) and top sustained winds stayed at 100 mph (155 kph).
Florence’s outer bands of wind and rain began lashing North Carolina on Thursday. Its center will approach the coast later Thursday and make landfall around the North Carolina-South Carolina line.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say the storm will weaken after landfall but also linger, dumping heavy rains for days.
Florence’s hurricane-force winds were blowing 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached up to 195 miles (315 kilometers) from the eye.
Ryan Maue of weather-tracking site weathermodels.com says the European climate model is predicting that Florence will dump more than 2 feet (60 centimeters) of rain in parts of North and South Carolina.
Measured another way, the same model predicts 2 trillion to 11 trillion gallons (7.5 trillion to 41 trillion liters) of rain will fall in the Carolinas over the next week.
The National Hurricane Center says Florence could dump 20 to 30 inches (50 to 75 centimeters) of rain, with some places getting as much as 40 inches (1 meter).
Forecasters from the center are predicting a storm surge of 7 to 11 feet (2 to 3 meters) in the area from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, North Carolina, with some higher amounts possible in the Neuse, Pamlico, Pungo and Bay rivers.
They’re estimating a storm surge of 2 to 4 feet (60 centimeters to 1 meter) from Edisto Beach to the South Santee River in South Carolina, and 6 to 9 feet (2 to 3 meters) from Cape Lookout to the Ocracoke Inlet in North Carolina.
Hurricane Florence has become an issue in a North Carolina congressional race.
As 9th District Democratic candidate Dan McCready announced he was suspending his campaign during the storm, The Charlotte Observer reports Republican rival Mark Harris has bought more local cable television ad time on The Weather Channel to run in the coming days.
Harris consultant Jordan Shaw on Thursday called McCready’s campaign suspension a “transparent gimmick designed to score political points by taking advantage of a dangerous situation.” But Andrew Bates with the liberal-leaning super PAC American Bridge said Harris’ decision to buy ads as Florence approached reflected the campaign’s “rotten values.”
Harris, McCready and Libertarian Jeff Scott are running for the seat currently held by Robert Pittenger, who lost in the GOP primary to Harris.