LUMBERTON — “We are ready!”
So said Robeson County Public Information Officer Emily Jones Friday evening as Southeastern North Carolina found itself facing the possibility of another hurricane strike. Robeson County was ravaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018. Now it’s Hurricane Isaias.
But the county has been preparing for since Matthew, Jones said. County Emergency Management Director Stephanie Chavis has been conducting training sessions she calls “hot washes” year-round since Matthew.
And since Isaias became a threat, Chavis and other county personnel have been taking part in multi-agency briefings three times a day, Jones said.
Still, county leaders hope they won’t be forced to use that knowledge and training. And they may not need to employ that training and knowledge.
As of early Friday evening, Isaias was centered about 195 miles south-southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas and was moving northwest at 15 mph, while packing sustained winds of 75 mph.
“Just into hurricane strength,” said Rachel Zouzias, a meteorologist with the NWS office in Wilmington.
It is still too early to say what effect the storm will have on Robeson County, she said. It depends on whether or not the storm’s track shifts east or west, how fast it moves and how long it stays over open water gaining strength.
Current projections have it reaching the Carolinas as a tropical storm, Zouzias said. Southeastern North Carolina is forecast to feel Isaias’ main effects Monday into Monday night.
“Right now it just bears watching,” Zouzias said.
Still, state officials ordered the evacuation of Oracoke Island, which was slammed by Hurricane Dorian in 2019, starting Saturday evening.
Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency Friday to help state and local governments respond more efficiently to the storm. In a nod to orders issued because of COVID-19, the state has adjusted its traditional shelter options to take social distancing into account.
“With the right protection and sheltering, we can keep people safe from the storm while at the same time trying to avoid making the pandemic worse,” Cooper said at a media briefing. “A hurricane during a pandemic is double trouble, but the state has been carefully preparing for this scenario.”
Jones said Robeson County residents are urged to prepare. And if they must evacuate they should have someplace to go, such as a hotel or motel or to the home of a friend or family member. Emergency shelters, if opened, will be limited to the number of people they can take in because of social-distancing restrictions related to COVID-19. How many people each shelter can accommodate will be dictated by each shelter’s square footage.
People forced to come to a shelter should bring sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and their own personal protective equipment, she said. Each person coming to a shelter will undergo a temperature check.
“One person could come in and infect everyone,” Jones said.
Residents are urged to have an evacuation route selected and to be packed ready to leave, if need be, she said. But mainly they need to stay informed. They can do this by downloading the ReadyNC app. Or they can call 211 to get local updates.
“And it’s not too late to sign up for CodeRed,” Jones said.
CodeRed is Robeson County’s emergency notification system that sends alerts to residents’ telephones. Residents can sign up for it by going online to https://public.coderedweb.com/cne/en-US/A394E5C99164.