GREENSBORO — As Hurricane Florence moves toward North Carolina, local emergency officials are preparing for the worst.
Most officials said they are in a holding pattern, waiting for the storm to hit and for forecasts to be finalized as the storm moves toward land.
“The hurricane is confounding expectations and changing by the moment,” said Rachel Faucette, a Guilford County Emergency Management coordinator. “As of now, we’re expecting this to be a pretty significant rain event with some tropical storm force winds, potentially beginning as early as late (Thursday) evening.”
Greensboro and Guilford County are both under a state of emergency. Both are encouraging residents not to drive during and after the Florence-related weather in order to help emergency responders and repair crews get to their destinations quickly.
By mid-afternoon Wednesday, Hurricane Florence, which weakened slightly to a Category 3 storm, was 435 miles southeast of Wilmington with winds of 125 mph. The storm is expected to make landfall somewhere between Wilmington and Charleston, S.C.
Guilford County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Jonathan Jacobs, who left Wrightsville Beach Tuesday, said the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association requested their help in sending additional deputies and detention officers to the east if needed. Jacobs said they agreed to have 50 people prepared to do so.
Jacobs said the sheriff’s office also agreed to have about 100 beds ready for evacuated inmates if needed.
Other local agencies said they are continuing to wait to see how the storm will impact Guilford County before they agree to send resources elsewhere.
Initial forecasts said Guilford County could expect rains between 8 to 15 inches and up to 20 inches in some areas. It also anticipated sustained winds of 40 mph with gusts up to 70 mph.
But overnight Tuesday, Hurricane Florence took a more southerly track, bringing rain totals down to between 4 and 8 inches and maximum winds of 40 mph, though those wind speeds will likely be steady, according to the National Weather Service.
Spokesman Dwayne Church said the Greensboro Fire Department is monitoring the storm and participating in daily webinars with the Emergency Operation Center.
“We’re keeping all our resources here in Guilford County to protect our citizens,” Church said.
Greensboro police spokesman Ron Glenn said the same.
“As of right now, we’re kind of in a preliminary planning stage,” Glenn said. “We have resources ready to respond if necessary and we’re working with EOC.”
Greensboro spokesman Jake Keys said city crews have gone out to check drains, paying close attention to problem areas. The city has checked its generators, tested equipment, put new chains on chainsaws and done the standard work that goes into preparing a city for a hurricane.
“At this point, we’re in a monitor-react mode,” Keys said. “We’re as ready as we can be.”
The Red Cross announced Wednesday it would open an emergency shelter on Thursday at Glenwood Recreation Center at 2010 Coliseum Blvd. The Interactive Resource Center will also open a White Flag emergency warming operations at 4 p.m. Thursday and continue through Saturday.
The shelter will be used to house local residents affected by the heavy rains and winds that are forecast to last through the weekend, though it could also take in evacuees from the east.
Faucette said Guilford County Emergency Management is working with its partner agency to prepare for the storm.
Faucette said emergency crews want residents to understand that they need to continue to have a way to access information whether that’s through social media, news, radios and having access to their smart phones.
Gov. Roy Cooper asked residents in a news conference Wednesday morning to only use the 911 system for real emergencies.
Glenn said residents of Greensboro can call 336-373-2489 to request information or report non-emergency situations. Keys said that phone number can be reached from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, but the city will reconsider extending hours into the weekend depending on how the storm affects the city.
If the power goes out, the city’s water operations can continue up to four weeks without any problems, Keys said.
Church put out a message on social media reminding residents to turn off their stoves if the power goes out while they’re cooking.
Earlier this year, a deadly F-2 tornado hit the east side of the city causing one death, widespread damage and power outages.
The tornado struck during dinner hours and when power was restored many house fires ignited from people who left their stove on through the power outage.
Church also urged residents to keep generators at least 6 feet from any buildings, but to also keep them dry.
“I know that can be difficult in rainstorms and hurricanes,” Church said.
He suggested putting a tent over the generator or if the tropical storm force winds come through, finding a covering like a gazebo that has an open airspace to keep the generator in.
All of the public officials urged residents not to drive through standing water. Guilford County expects to see widespread flooding as this slow-moving storm inches along the area.