By William Holloman
Preparations here in Mount Olive for Hurricane Florence got an early start, and actually began a week ago when Mount Olive Mayor Joe Scott issued serious concerns at the monthly town board meeting. Those concerns appeared to be well-founded, due to hazardous conditions still present at press time.
“We have to concentrate on the safety of our citizens, and at this point that is our biggest concern,” the Mayor said. He urged that night that everyone have their storm preparation completed by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Town Manager Charles Brown also observed at that meeting last week, “We have a lot of resources in Mount Olive that a lot of small towns don’t have, but the bottom line is we all have to help one another.”
Mayor Scott said, “It is a dangerous storm and we have to be prepared.” He said at that meeting he had already made a decision to call for a curfew beginning at 6 p.m. on Thursday and lasting through 6 a.m. on Friday.
“We need to work together to make the best of this unpleasant situation,” said the Mayor.
From there, preparations proliferated. Town hall and routine town functions ceased at 5 p.m. on Wednesday and only certain personnel were on the job, including emergency personnel and public works employees.
Wayne County Schools shut down on Wednesday and an emergency shelter was set up here in Mount Olive on Thursday at Carver Elementary School. It is the second time in less than two years that local elementary school facility, capable of housing about 150 people, has been used as a disaster recovery shelter. As of Saturday, 165 people had sought shelter at Carver, with an additional 65 at Mount Olive Middle. The latter was consolidated with Carver on Saturday afternoon. Spring Creek Middle School also served as a shelter.
“As Mayor of Mount Olive, I am asking residents of Mount Olive to prepare now for the weather coming our way.” Scott asked residents to “share with friends and look out for one another.” He pledged early on to keep citizens informed.
Several days later, as Hurricane Florence continued to bear down on the North Carolina coast, Mayor Scott said, “We are now prepared for the worst, but are hoping for the best.” He said county authorities had named Carver Elementary as the local shelter site.
No pets were allowed there, but pets could be taken to the Wayne County Fairgrounds, where they could be housed during the storm. Owners were required to provide food for their animals, as well as go to the site to feed them.
Mayor Scott said the approaching storm was “something to fear” and one that was probably like something few of us living had ever seen. He also advised residents that first responders and emergency personnel would not be out or available during the storm. “Take this storm seriously, because it may be a while before normal living returns,” he said.
Town Manager Charles Brown had immediately initiated storm preparation plans and met daily throughout the week with his department heads. He advised them from the beginning that “Hurricane Florence is not here yet and many things can happen between now and then… so, we need to prepare, but not panic or spread panic.” He advised his departmental heads of what was anticipated to happen through his daily contacts with Duke Energy Progress.
He said Duke Energy tends to be more reliable than television news, because they do not have to attract viewers and have millions of dollars of equipment in the path of the storm.
“We need to get prepared,” Brown said early in the week.
He had told his department heads he wanted all town vehicles and equipment checked, double checked and top off. He advised that a list of contact information (mobile phones and emails) for all employees and elected officials was needed and distributed. He also asked that personnel provide all FEMA-required data for disaster recovery be forwarded to the FEMA web site.
Arrangements were made early in the week for the town to have a 53-foot refrigerated trailer available to handle food supplies at the town’s storm shelter. Mobile kitchen facilities from the Mount Olive First Pentecostal Holiness Church were also worked out.
He directed that public works personnel early on make sure that storm drains were checked and cleared, and that all town portable generators were operable. “Prepare, be safe, don’t panic, and thank you for all you do,” said the town manager to his personnel.
He noted that Wayne County Social Services, the Salvation Army, and others staffed the shelter. The town provided security and other volunteers.
Brown also early on urged citizens to makes preparations and have needed non-perishable foods. He said water would not be an issue.
“The town will have water. It may be cold water, but we will have water,” he said.
He did say that two years ago when Hurricane Matthew came through, the town provided meals to some shut-in residents. He said a focus was on that again.
Brown also noted that Mount Olive Family Medicine Center again kept the center open around the clock during the storm. He said it was a “tremendous asset to recovery issues.” In addition, the town manager noted that Vidant Health Care also has an emergency helicopter service at the local airport.
“If it gets really bad, then we are as prepared as we can be. We face a situation where everyone needs to look out for themselves, their families, and their neighbors,” Brown said.
Early Saturday morning, Charles Brown told the Tribune conditions have been as bad as, if not worse than, those during Hurricane Matthew in October of 2016. Much of the town was flooded, though Brown said was not aware of any injuries or any types of water rescue. Downed trees and storm-related debris were also widespread.
According to reports, the Neuse River was predicted to crest in Goldsboro at just over 27 feet, close to Hurricane Matthew’s estimated 29-foot crest. Resulting flooding would close Highway 117, the most direct route between Mount Olive and Goldsboro. Several local roads were also flooded or washed out, or blocked by storm debris.
Total storm rainfall in Mount Olive late Saturday afternoon was estimated at approximately 18 inches.
Plans were considered to relocate all in the two shelters here to Kornegay Arena on the University of Mount Olive campus, but there were problems with moisture on the floor at the arena.
At press time, nine deaths had been directly caused by Hurricane Florence conditions, three in Duplin County. The latter were attributed to attempts to drive through flood waters.