All eyes on Hurricane Florence in Gloucester

by Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Sep 12, 2018 - 01:08 PM

Photo: As of Tuesday morning, Hurricane Florence was 800 miles away. However, many low-lying areas like Guinea were still recovering from flooding as a result of heavy rains last weekend. Many of the roads leading to Crown Pointe Marina, like Cooks Landing Road, above, were partially or totally covered by water even before the storm’s arrival. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

As of Tuesday morning, Hurricane Florence was 800 miles away. However, many low-lying areas like Guinea were still recovering from flooding as a result of heavy rains last weekend. Many of the roads leading to Crown Pointe Marina, like Cooks Landing Road, above, were partially or totally covered by water even before the storm’s arrival. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

Photo: The lot in front of the Waste Management station on Guinea Road was already filling with RVs and boats Tuesday morning as residents moved their possessions to higher ground. In addition to the vehicles and vessels pictured above, golf carts, trailers and construction equipment sat tied down or covered in the lot awaiting Hurricane Florence. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

The lot in front of the Waste Management station on Guinea Road was already filling with RVs and boats Tuesday morning as residents moved their possessions to higher ground. In addition to the vehicles and vessels pictured above, golf carts, trailers and construction equipment sat tied down or covered in the lot awaiting Hurricane Florence. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

For nearly a week, weather forecasters have been talking about a monster of a storm, Hurricane Florence, which is churning in the Atlantic southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, packing 130 mile-per-hour maximum sustained winds.

This week, a quarter of a million residents of low-lying Coastal Virginia were asked to evacuate, effective 8 a.m. Tuesday, to get out of the path of the powerful Category 4 hurricane.

The impending storm and evacuation order also sparked the closing of schools in both Gloucester and Mathews for an indefinite period of time starting on Tuesday and has caused countless residents to travel to local businesses to stock up on items to prepare for the worst. 

Much of Mathews County and portions of Gloucester are included in a mandatory evacuation order for residents in “Zone A” that was implemented by Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday evening. The Middle Peninsula could begin seeing Tropical Storm conditions as early as tonight, according to the National Weather Service.

By Tuesday, many gas stations in Gloucester had run out of regular-grade fuel; and the stations that did have it had long lines of people scrambling to fill up before the storm hit. The milk, water and bread aisles of many local grocery stores were sparse, as people were grabbing those hot commodities as soon as they were stocked on the shelves.

“Hurricane Florence has the potential to cause catastrophic flooding, especially in our coastal areas,” Northam said. “This evacuation is for the safety of thousands of Virginians living in that zone. But the effects of this storm will be felt statewide, and I encourage everyone in Virginia to prepare now.”

Northam’s decision to call for the mandatory evacuation was based on Monday’s data and forecasts, which showed the potential for flooding in coastal areas. Virginians in coastal areas can see which zone they live in by going to knowyourzoneva.org. 

The governor also declared a state of emergency for Virginia, to begin preparation of state assets. On Tuesday, Northam’s request of a federal emergency declaration in advance of the storm was granted by President Donald Trump, to ensure the availability of federal resources to help with Virginia’s storm response.

The latest track from the National Hurricane Center as of Wednesday morning had Florence making landfall around Wilmington, North Carolina, by 2 a.m. Saturday and meandering around the southern North Carolina/northern South Carolina coast for about 24 hours before moving into western South Carolina by early Monday morning.

As for this area, the NWS predicted the biggest threats being storm surge throughout Coastal Virginia; flooding rain and the possibilities of tornadoes/waterspouts. 

In Gloucester

Gloucester County officials announced a local emergency declaration in preparation for the anticipated impacts of the storm, which, along with the state’s declaration of emergency, allows county officials to access state and federal resources as needed, according to county spokesperson Christi Lewis.

As part of this, Peasley Middle School, located near the intersection of Ark Road and Hickory Fork Road at Sassafras has been designated as the primary local shelter for residents needing to evacuate and who may not have other options. The shelter is scheduled to open today at 6 a.m.

Domestic pets, accompanied by their owners, will be allowed at the shelter as long as space is available. Pet owners should bring pet kennels/crates, food, bowls, bedding, litter and rabies vaccination records, Lewis said.

“Although an emergency shelter will be available for those needing it, space and accommodations are limited and a visit with friends or relatives; or staying in a hotel away from the most heavily-impacted areas, is recommended,” she said. Firearms and alcoholic beverages will not be permitted at the shelter.

Gloucester also activated an emergency information helpline beginning Tuesday to provide information and to answer questions. The number to call is 804-693-3000 and will be answered during regular business hours. “Please reserve 911 calls for matters related to significant injuries, illnesses and life-threatening emergencies,” she said.

Lewis also asked residents to be patient if lines are busy, as calls will be answered in the order in which they are received. She also encouraged residents to monitor local media to keep apprised of the latest conditions and alerts.

Residents seeking shelter should bring bedding materials, changes of clothes, snacks, beverages and special dietary foods, items for infants, elderly and the disabled, diapers for children, medications or prescription drugs, personal toiletries, glasses/contacts and hearing aids, and entertainment.

Gloucester Sheriff Darrell Warren said that despite a mandatory evacuation order being imposed, Gloucester deputies will not restrict people moving to and from their homes until such time that roads are no longer passable. They also will not force people to leave their homes. “Residents need to understand that there will come a time that first responders will not be able to reach them,” Warren said. “They need to not only consider their homes flooding but also the roads leading to their homes.” 

Those who do plan to evacuate should do so early, Lewis said, as Route 17 is one of the primary evacuation routes for all of Hampton Roads. Local bridges will be unsafe to travel in the event wind speeds exceed 45 miles per hour.

Roadways

Virginia Department of Transportation has been preparing its staff, equipment and materials to respond to any unsafe traveling conditions that may develop from Florence in the local area. Motorists are encouraged to visit www.511Virginia.org to monitor news reports about highway conditions. To report downed trees or hazardous road conditions, call VDOT’s Customer Service Center at 1-800-FOR-ROAD. 

Sgt. Michelle Anaya, spokesperson for the Virginia State Police, encouraged residents and motorists traveling through the commonwealth to “pack their patience and make traffic safety a priority.”

Anaya said motorists can expect increased volumes of traffic on Route 460 and Interstates 264, 664 and 64; which increases the need for all drivers to make “smart, safe and sober” decisions while behind the wheel.

VDOT did lift all lane closures at 8 a.m. Tuesday on all state-maintained roads to support evacuation efforts from low-lying coastal areas. “Traffic is being closely monitored on Route 17 from Gloucester County to the Fredericksburg area, and signal timing will be adjusted if needed to favor traffic traveling north and west to evacuate,” said VDOT spokesperson Kelly Hannon.

“Drivers are advised to plan their routes in advance; have adequate fuel for their destination; make certain vehicles are in good working condition; and to share the road responsibly,” Anaya said.

AAA also encourages people not to attempt to cross any standing water on the road. According to the organization, as little as six inches of water can make a driver lose control of their car and two feet of water will carry most cars away.

Electricity

According to a release issued on Monday, Dominion Energy has been tracking Florence’s path closely and customers in North Carolina and Virginia are urged to prepare for a multi-day storm that could bring dangerous conditions and widespread outages.

Dominion encourages customers to set up an account to report and track power outages from their mobile devices; update their contact information with Dominion, including a mobile phone number.

Customers with portable generators should purchase adequate fuel; and should be sure to review the product’s safety instructions before operating.