NORTH CAROLINA – Hurricane Michael made landfall earlier on Wednesday in Florida as a very strong Category 4. Though it is expected to weaken as it continues its track toward North Carolina, it is expected to bring gusty winds and dump several inches of rain across North Carolina.
With several areas across the state still reeling from Hurricane Florence, residents are more vigilant and spent Wednesday preparing for the potential for downed trees, flooding and power outages.
The Army Corps of Engineers has had to make some changes when it comes to their approach to bringing down water levels in the Triangle. Their water management chief says they've stopped releasing water from Falls Lake into the Neuse River in an attempt to prevent future flooding. They say the water level at this time is not ideal but they're hoping it won't reach flood levels as high as they were during Florence. The city of Raleigh's storm water management division also worked on releasing water from Lake Johnson to stop the possibility of flooding from the storm.
Robeson County officials are telling residents in low-lying areas to have a plan for Michael. The storm is expected to dump two or more inches of rain in Lumberton. This means the Lumber River, which caused major flooding during Florence will be rising. County officials say the river will rise to 13 feet at moderate flood stage, but they're concerned about potential tornadoes. Officials are asking neighbors to remove debris from the front yard to reduce the chance of storm drains getting clogged and causing flooding.
The mountain counties are already seeing some heavy rainfall which could cause flooding. Areas around Wilson Creek in Caldwell County are already on alert and ready to evacuate in case Michael brings more rain. Residents who've once evacuated Hurricanes Matthew and Florence from Florida and Wilmington say they're upset they're having to do it again.
"We came to see the fall colors but every time we come up here in the fall, we get hit by a storm. Two years ago we had to evacuate because of Matthew and here we are evacuating because of Michael," said Florida resident Chip Kunka.
Residents and emergency officials are on standby in the Triad, and waiting to see what resources they have to pull. In case of flash flooding, they're adjusting their plans and resources to make sure they're ready to respond. Officials say they learned from Hurricane Florence what they need to prepare for.
"I think some of things we had in place before Florence were pre-staged barrels and cones at areas that we identified as regularly flooding, so we were able to put those out very quickly as the flooding came up. That's something organizations have already started to do," said Guilford County EMS Division Director Don Campbell. "We also identified what levels of rain start to create flooding in specific neighborhoods and certain areas so we can pre-stage some equipment. We believe the rain levels are going to stay below that, but we're still going to prepare as though it's a possibility."
Officials say they may have to pull in additional staffing but are hoping they won't have to. In the meantime, they're urging residents to stay informed by registering for Guilford County's free notification system to receive alerts about evacuations, flash flooding watches or warnings in the area.
In Jacksonville, residents are still cleaning up after Florence to minimize flooding prior to Michael's arrival. City crews are cleaning out storm drains, picking up debris, and concentrating on areas prone to flooding. The city is asking residents to clean up debris on their property before October 24. FEMA will likely send contractors to Florida after Michael.