Localities brace for pending hurricane

Heavy rains and high tides caused flooding of roads and yards in low-lying areas of Lancaster and Northumberland counties earlier this week, even before Hurricane Florence's arrival on the East Coast. Riverside Drive (above) in Morattico was under water during high tide at noon Monday, September 10. Photo by Deborah Edgar

Click here for the latest updated briefing for hurricane Florence

Emergency disaster declarations and mandatory evacuations were issued earlier this week as the Commonwealth braced for impact from Hurricane Florence, predicted to make landfall in North Carolina today, September 13.

Although the exact path of the hurricane was still subject to change at press time, forecasters indicated a potential for storm surges, flooding, high winds and possible power outages in eastern Virginia. Rain amounts up to 12 inches were also predicted for the western part of the state, resulting in widespread flash flooding in that area.

Ahead of the storm, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam joined governors from Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina in declaring a state of an emergency. Additionally, Gov. Northam issued a mandatory evacuation of Zone A in eastern Virginia during a press conference on Monday afternoon. Zone A includes much of Mathews County, along with portions of Lancaster, Northumberland and Middlesex counties.

Lancaster County declared a state of emergency September 9, according Stephen M. Smith, interim chief of the Lancaster Department of Emergency Services.

Low-lying areas of the county, including areas of Windmill Point and Morattico, were already dealing with flooding issues resulting from high tides torrential rains which lingered over the county last Sunday afternoon. Residents in some areas reported as much as eight to 10 inches of rain.

Those in the evacuation zone were encouraged “to seek shelter with family or friends, as you will be more comfortable that way,” said Smith.

If residents don’t have another option, an emergency shelter will open at 10 a.m. Thursday, September 13, at Lancaster Middle School, 191 School Street, Kilmarnock. The shelter also will accommodate family cats and dogs but no other pets.

In Northumberland County, Lewisetta is also in Zone A. As of press time, Northumberland officials were still monitoring the storm and making plans to open a shelter if necessary.  The shelter would be at the Northumberland Middle/High School Complex, 201 Academic Lane, Heathsville.

Residents remaining in the evacuation zones may be unable to receive assistance during the storm, said Smith.

“Should you choose to stay, during the event, emergency services may not be available. Emergency vehicles will be unable to respond through roads effected by high waters. Once the winds sustain a speed of 45 miles per hour or greater, all responses will be suspended until conditions improve,” he said.

In preparation for the storm and because of elevated water levels from last weekend’s storms, the Virginia Department of Transportation suspended ferry services in Lancaster and Northumberland counties. The Merry Point Ferry, which crosses the Corrotoman River, and the Sunnybank Ferry, which crosses the Little Wicomico River, will not operate until further notice.

Many public schools, including Lancaster, suspended after-school activities Tuesday, September 11, and closed for the remainder of the week with anticipation of re-opening Monday, September 17.

Hurricane Florence neared Category 4 strength Tuesday with maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour. Weather forecasters predicted the storm would make landfall as a Category 3 storm.