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Hurricane Florence lashed Wilson County with torrential rain and high winds as the storm made landfall near Wilmington on Friday, but local damage was largely confined to some downed trees and power lines. Officials are monitoring river, creek and lake levels as Florence continues its sweep through the Carolinas.
A tropical storm warning remained in effect for Wilson as wind speeds were slated to peak between 30 and 40 mph Friday with gusts up to 55 mph. Officials said wind speeds should ease by Saturday.
“Hurricane Florence appears to taking a liking to North Carolina,” Rodney Dancy, Wilson County Emergency Management’s community preparedness coordinator, said Friday afternoon. “Her speeds are constantly decreasing as she leaves the state, which means we have an increased risk of higher amounts of rain.”
Dancy said the heavier rain bands will be moving into the area Saturday.
“We may have showers into Sunday,” Dancy said.
A flash flood watch remains in effect until Sunday evening.
Dancy said if folks see a break between the clouds with periods of sunshine Saturday, there will be an increase for chances of tornadoes. That means the air mass will be heating up, making it unstable, he added. A tornado watch remains in effect for Wilson until 5 p.m. Saturday. A tornado warning was issued for parts of Wilson County Friday night, but officials said no tornado touched down.
Dancy said as residents go into the weekend, they still need to pay attention to the weather and the dangers that can come with it.
“We should not let our guard down until the event is over,” he said. “But it seems like this system is taking ‘Flo-ever.’”
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield rode around town Friday to survey the damage before heading to the shelter at Fike High School, where 136 people have sought refuge. Staff at Fike asked that Butterfield help transport water and blankets to the shelter at Darden Middle School, which opened Thursday afternoon and is housing 69 people, including 46 migrant workers from farms in Elm City and Lucama.
With no cots at Darden and meals limited to MREs, Butterfield contacted Walmart executives in Arkansas, who passed the message along to the local management in hopes of securing cots, blankets and food for the evacuees.
Shauna White checked in to the Darden shelter Thursday night with her two children, bringing blankets, clothing and some food for her family. She became fast friends with fellow evacuee Gloristine Whitted, who also arrived Thursday with two teenage nephews and her 7-year-old great granddaughter. Both ladies have endured previous hurricanes at their current homes, but neighbors’ fears prompted them to escape before any hazards arose.
“You shouldn’t play with the weather,” White said. “You can’t predict what Mother Nature is going to do, so we didn’t want to take any risks.”
Members of Boy Scout Troop No. 8 from First Baptist Church are helping out at both shelters, pitching in where they can and doing some heavy lifting for the American Red Cross volunteers. Many of them helped during Hurricane Matthew, so they knew what to expect and planned for at least a week worth of living and working at the shelters.
“I joined the scouts because I wanted to have fun. I wanted to have an adventure, but I also wanted to be part of something greater than myself,” said Israel Delabra, an 18-year-old Fike High senior. “I realized the scouts give me experience and training no one else gets at my age, but we also have a brotherhood together. Every adventure we have — either bad or good — we make it through it together and getting the chance to serve our community together is great.”
While Wilson was not a spot for coastal evacuees, people like Wilmington resident Augusto Carvalho was among the first to check in to the Darden shelter. As a native of Brazil, Carvalho has never dealt with a hurricane before and heeded the warnings to get out. After a few hours, though, he left the shelter and settled into a hotel in Richmond, Virginia.
“In North Carolina, it isn’t a matter of if a major hurricane will happen,” Carvalho said. “Here it is about when it is going to happen and what to do to get through it.”
Among the out-of-state Red Cross volunteers at Darden is Sandra Heggeness from North Dakota. The retired office manager signed up to help during Hurricane Harvey after a solicitation for volunteers brought back memories from her childhood when she evacuated to a shelter following a hurricane in Galveston.
“I got the call to come here in the morning and flew here the next,” Heggeness said. “I put on Facebook that I was going to meet Florence face-to-face.”
MASSIVE TREE UPROOTED
A large oak tree fell between three houses on Boswellville Road west of Wilson before dawn Friday.
“When we woke up at 6:30, it was already there,” said Bernice Rodriguez. “We were out of lights since like 4 a.m.. Perhaps around that time was when it came down.”
The tree landed on her fence and her car.
“It brought down parts of the fence and hit the car too. The electric wires are down,” Rodriguez said. “The funny part about it is I took my truck over there thinking that other one might fall,” Rodriquez said, pointing to an adjacent tree. “But it was the other one.”
The tree had been in Justin Roberts’ yard.
“It was right out our bedroom window and we didn’t hear it fall,” Roberts said.
“I guess that means a tree doesn’t make a sound when it falls,” said his wife, Nicole Roberts. “I can’t believe we didn’t hear it.”
Roberts estimated the tree to be between 200 and 300 years old.
“It was still alive,” Justin Roberts said. “It’s seen a lot in its lifetime. This was the first house built on Boswellville Road.”
The broad limbs of the downed tree covered the side yard and part of the back as well as falling on the Rodriguezes’ fence and car.
“We’re just lucky it didn’t go the other way,” said Justin Roberts, whose bedroom was perhaps 15 from the oak’s massive trunk.
Allan Davis, who lives right behind the Roberts and Rodriguez homes, didn’t hear the tree fall either.
“What’s weird is that nobody heard it come down. I’m just waiting for that pecan tree,” said Davis, pointing upward over the other side of the house.
“It’s all twisted up. These trees have been down here for a lot longer than us,” Davis said. “The way the wind comes through here, you never know what’s going to happen.”
Davis said it’s the gusts that bother him.
“There are some people crazy enough to sit out these storms on the coast. Well, I will tell you, I wouldn’t do it.”
Bernice Rodriguez’s 3-year-old daughter, Leslie, spent the night with seven members of her family as the storm passed Friday.
“This is not fun at all ‘cause the lights are out,” Leslie said.
LIMBS AND DEBRIS
Abbitt Hoffman, a manager at the Whirligig Station redevelopment project, felt compelled to help pull a large tree limb out of Tarboro Street when he saw it.
“I just happened to be driving through and saw the branch and figured I would help out,” he said.
Doing so freed up Wilson city crews to attend to other important functions around the city.
Hoffman was in the National Guard.
“It’s military instinct. I don’t mind at all,” he said.
Hoffman also happened to see a piece he thought had fallen off one of the whirligigs at Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park.
“I picked it up to secure it. It was sitting up there in the flowerbed,” Hoffman said. “I don’t mind helping out.”
Hoffman delivered the piece, about the size of an outboard motor propeller, to the whirligig restoration workplace on Douglas Street.
CITY, COUNTY RESPONSE
As of Friday afternoon, Wilson County had no reports of major flooding or road closures. Dancy said officials received a few reports of downed trees and limbs, but none that were impeding traffic.
Several trees fell within the city Friday morning, but there were no widespread concerns, said Rebecca Agner, city of Wilson spokeswoman. Wilson Energy had fewer than 100 customers without power at any given time on Friday. As of Friday afternoon, only 20 were without power.
“Crews are on hand and responding as outages occur,” Agner said.
Duke Energy reported roughly 200 outages for its Wilson County customers as of Friday afternoon.
Manchester Street was closed Friday due to flooding. Gray and Bragg streets were also closed Friday due to a downed tree, city officials said. There were no Greenlight Community Broadband internet service outages as of Friday.
Wilson Fire/Rescue Services experienced a normal call volume, according to officials. The Wilson Police Department saw a light call volume, Agner said, adding that most calls were for downed limbs.
Agner urges residents not to call 911 to report downed trees unless they result in a serious injury or other emergency. She said residents can report a downed tree or limbs by using the city’s “Fix It Wilson” mobile app or by calling 252-399-2424 and pressing option 4.
Visit WilsonTimes.com to see a time-lapse video of whirligigs spinning in Hurricane Florence’s wind at the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park.