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Hurricane Michael remains on path to hit Pee Dee

October 11, 2018

FLORENCE – Hurricane Michael slammed into Panama City, Florida, on Wednesday with winds of 155 miles an hour, and it was on a course to reach the Florence area Thursday, but it is expected to be milder by then.

Tropical storm and flash-flood warnings have been posted for the Pee Dee.

Some Florence residents were stocking up on food, water and other supplies in advance of the storm. But some, perhaps lulled by the lack of punch in the Pee Dee from Hurricane Florence, were unworried.

“Basin rainfall with averages of 2 to 5 inches with locally higher amounts is possible,” Reid Hawkins, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Wilmington, North Carolina, said in a Wednesday briefing on the storm.

The forecast for rain was lowered to 1 to 4 inches Wednesday evening.

Florence is forecast to see maximum sustained winds of 29 miles an hour with gusts up to 41 mph. Wind speeds will be lower east of Florence with the exception of the coast, which is forecast to receive the highest winds as a result of the storm.

Trees weakened by Hurricane Florence could topple from these winds, causing additional power outages.

“Unfortunately I think that will be plenty to knock over some trees,” said Jordan Baker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Wilmington.

Wednesday’s rains, which will further loosen the soil, won’t help that situation, Baker said.

Overall, Wednesday’s rains combined withThursday’s storms could dump a total of 3-5 inches of rain across Pee Dee counties, Baker said.

On Wednesday morning, Pee Dee school systems started canceling classes ahead of the storm’s arrival. Francis Marion University and Florence-Darlington Technical College will hold classes Thursday.

“Residents and businesses are advised to secure tarps on any roofs damaged last month by [Hurricane] Florence to be better prepared for gusty winds and heavy rains,” Hawkins wrote in the briefing.

“The ground remains saturated in many locations and, as a result, it will not take much rainfall to cause flooding. Some area rivers could reach minor or moderate flood by the end of the week or this weekend including: Lumber, Pee Dee, Black Creek and Cape Fear.”

Black Creek at Quinby is forecast to crest at 14.7 feet – high minor flood stage – at approximately 8 p.m. Saturday, according to the creek’s hydrological website maintained by the National Weather Service.

Michael, forecast to be a tropical storm as it blows through, is forecast to cause 2-3 feet of coastal flooding, especially in areas that were damaged by Florence and that are already flood prone.

There also is a high risk from tornadoes spun off by Michael’s passage, according to the briefing. The greatest threat to the Pee Dee from tornadoes will come today.

“Based on the latest track, tropical storm force winds are most likely to arrive during Thursday morning for northeast South Carolina,” Hawkins wrote in the briefing. “The storm is expected to be moving quickly across the Carolinas, and winds will improve by Thursday evening for northeast South Carolina and Thursday night for southeast North Carolina.”

In Florence, Antoinette Waters had two cases of water as well as bread and milk in preparation for the storm.

“Florence [the storm] wasn’t as bad as we expected, but I was still in one of the areas of town that lost power,” Waters said. “A lot of my friends and family members didn’t lose power, but we did. So, we’re going to be prepared.”

While many Florence residents decided to prepare for the storm, Jackson Burnette said he wasn’t concerned.

“It’s going to make landfall a long ways from us,” Burnette said. “We’re going to get some rain and maybe the wind picks up, but I don’t think you’re going to see anything like a couple of weeks ago as far as flooding.”

One Florence resident hadn’t even heard about Michael’s path to South Carolina.

“There’s a hurricane coming?” she asked.

At the Piggly Wiggly on Cherokee Road, manager Cayla Locklair said the store had seen several customers come through grabbing the normal items. As of Wednesday afternoon, the store had planned to operate on a normal schedule.

“I’ve had people buying water earlier, but a couple of weeks ago it was really crazy. It doesn’t really compare as far as that’s concerned, so far at least,” Locklair. “I guess we’ll see when they update us on the storm.”

Lauren Bromell said she was buying a few supplies just in case things took a turn for the worse.

“It’s something you never really know,” Bromell said. “It’s kind of one of those deals where it can be bad in one neighborhood and nothing really happen in another neighborhood.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

When it struck Florida, Michael was the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental United States in nearly 50 years.

It battered the coastline with sideways rain, powerful gusts and crashing waves. It swamped streets and docks, flattened trees, stripped away limbs and leaves, knocked out power to a quarter-million homes and businesses, shredded awnings and sent shingles flying. Explosions apparently caused by blown transformers could be heard.

“We are catching some hell,” said Timothy Thomas, who rode out the storm with his wife in their second-floor apartment in Panama City Beach. He said he could see broken street signs and a 90-foot pine bent at a 45-degree angle.

Michael was a meteorological brute that sprang quickly from a weekend tropical depression, becoming a fearsome Category 4 by early Wednesday, up from a Category 2 less than a day earlier. It was the most powerful hurricane on record to hit the Panhandle.

More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were urged to evacuate as Michael closed in. But the fast-moving storm didn’t give people much time to prepare, and emergency authorities lamented that many ignored the warnings and seemed to think they could ride it out.

“While it might be their constitutional right to be an idiot, it’s not their right to endanger everyone else!” Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson tweeted.

Diane Farris, 57, and her son walked to a high school-turned-shelter near their home in Panama City to find approximately 1,100 people crammed into a space meant for about half as many. Neither she nor her son had any way to communicate, because their lone cellphone got wet and quit working.

“I’m worried about my daughter and grandbaby ,” she said, choking back tears. “I don’t know where they are. You know, that’s hard.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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