Preparing for Hurricane Florence

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Emergency disaster declarations and mandatory evacuations have been issued in Virginia, including low lying portions of the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, as the area braces for impact from Hurricane Florence, predicted to make landfall in North Carolina Thursday.

Although the exact path of the hurricane is still subject to change, forecasters indicated a potential for storm surges, flooding, high winds and possible power outages in eastern Virginia. Rain amounts up to 12 inches are also predicted for the western part of the state, which would result 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 Sunday, according to Stephen M. Smith, interim chief of the Lancaster Department of Emergency Services.

Low-lying areas of the county, including Windmill Point and Morattico, were already dealing with flooding issues resulting from high tides and 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 are encouraged “to try 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. Northumberland officials are 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 has 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 and closed for the remainder of the week with anticipation of re-opening Monday, September 17.

*The Virginia Department of Emergency Management last year created a new system that divides communities into four flooding zones, A through D, with Zone A being the most at risk and D least at risk. The evacuation map can be found online at the state’s emergency management website.