Governor urges NC residents to prepare for Hurricane Irene
As North Carolina government agencies prepare for the possible effects of Hurricane Irene, Gov. Bev Perdue is urging residents to do the same.Posted — Updated
"Please make sure you have three days worth of food, water and supplies. You may lose water or electrical power during the storm, and grocery stores and other businesses may be closed," Perdue said in a statement Tuesday.
With forecasters predicting Irene could make landfall as a major hurricane this weekend, residents of the Carolinas bought plywood, tarps and water on Tuesday while vacationers canceled reservations along the coast.
In Carolina Beach, south of Wilmington, where the last major hurricane was Hurricane Floyd a dozen years ago, tourists canceled reservations while locals were hoping Irene would pass to the east. Hurricane Isabel, which wasn't a major hurricane, came ashore to the north in 2003.
"Everybody is kind of wait-and-see but those who do have reservations for the weekend are canceling," Steve Long, the owner of the 113-room Golden Sands Motel on the oceanfront. "Since it was going east all day yesterday we're hoping it keeps pushing that way."
A midday advisory from the National Hurricane Center predicted the storm would make landfall on the North Carolina coast on Saturday. Government forecasters' best guess of where the eye would come ashore has been drifting east and currently lies near Jacksonville, but they warn there could be errors of several hundred miles with a forecast so far in advance.
Long said people in Carolina Beach are preparing to board up, but want a better idea of where the storm may head. "They're getting ready, but waiting another day or so to kind of see if it does turn anymore," he said.
Long has owned the motel since 1981, and the worst storm he remembers is Hurricane Diana in 1984. It flooded the motel and ripped off its roof.
Authorities on North Carolina's Ocracoke Island were taking no chances. Officials there issued a mandatory evacuation order for visitors to leave starting at 5 a.m. Wednesday.
Officials said Tuesday that a mandatory evacuation order for all non-emergency personnel will go into effect Thursday morning for the barrier island, which is only accessible by boat. The island is 16 miles long and mostly undeveloped, with a town at the southern tip.
Tommy Hutcherson, a resident who serves on the local board that makes decisions about when to evacuate, said officials want to have enough time to get everybody off.
Ocracoke has about 800 full-time residents and a population that swells to thousands of visitors in the summer.
In South Carolina, officials said evacuations could be ordered by the governor as early as Thursday.
"Have your emergency plan in place," said Emergency Management Division spokesman Derrec Becker. "Know what to do, know where to go."
The last hurricane to hit the South Carolina coast was seven years ago. The last major storm was Hugo back in 1989 which smashed into the coast near Charleston as a Category 4 storm with 135 mph winds.
Gov. Nikki Haley and Emergency Management Director George McKinney were closely monitoring the situation, along with county, city and federal emergency officials, and the South Carolina National Guard. Conference calls were being made with officials in nearby states as well to coordinate plans.
During Hurricane Floyd in 1999, with evacuations from Florida to the Carolinas, Interstate 26 became a parking lot between Charleston and Columbia and it took as long as 18 hours for people to make what is generally a two-hour trip.
During that storm, 530,000 South Carolinians were part of what was called the largest evacuation in the nation's history — 3.5 million people in the Southeast.
Since then evacuation plans have been updated and there are plans to reverse lanes of major highways leading to the coast in the event of an evacuation.
Becker suggested citizens check insurance policies and continue to monitor media and the state web site for any updates.
In Myrtle Beach, between Charleston and Wilmington, a Lowes home improvement store was doing a steady business in generators and plywood, tarps and water.
"It's not a rush or a mad dash. Everyone is doing pretty much a wait-and-see now," said store manager Mike Hemingway.
Associated Press Writers Bruce Smith and Suzanne M. Schafer contributed to this story.