By Linda Cicoira — The week started with Eastern Shore residents rushing to get supplies and trying to figure out where low-lying folks would stay during the impending arrival of monster Hurricane Florence following Gov. Ralph Northam’s mandatory evacuation order for Zone A, which is much of the coast of both sides of the Shore.
With more and more people in recent years building along the intracoastal waterway to the east and Chesapeake Bay inlets to the west, many in Accomack and Northampton counties are living in Zone A.
There was the normal anxiety, or in some cases thrill, that goes with it. The forecast was ever changing. Tuesday was much the same.
But Wednesday things brightened here a bit as it appeared the Shore could avoid the most severe weather as predicted by the National Hurricane Center Track Forecast Cone. The hurricane was expected to move a bit farther south.
Governor Northam scheduled a press conference about the weather for shortly after press time — too late to be included in this edition -— and his office would not share details ahead of time.
“I think we’re all doing better,” C. Ray Pruitt, Accomack’s director of public safety, said Wednesday. “I feel sorry for the people who are not doing better.”
Even so, “We’re erring on the side of caution,” Pruitt said. The shelters were still opened at 5 p.m. Wednesday and officials continued to monitor the storm. “I’m fine with it,” Pruitt said. Updates were
expected to be made Thursday morning.
The Eastern Shore Post went to press Wednesday, a day ahead of schedule because the paper is printed in Norfolk, Va., which was even closer to the storm on charts that track and predict the hurricane’s movement. Check www.easternshorepost.com and the Post’s Facebook page for updates.
Schools in both counties were closed for the rest of the week. And disaster declarations were made. Those is Zone A included Cape Charles, Chincoteague, Deep Creek, Greenbackville, Quinby, Oyster, Wachapreague, Hacks Neck, and Harborton and many other areas. Saxis and Sanford were listed as being in Zone B but usually get hit with flooding. Bay Creek near Cape Charles was also in Zone B.
Arcadia and Nandua high schools were set up as shelters for Accomack. Nandua Middle was established as a shelter for Northampton residents seeking higher ground. Those opened at 5 p.m., Wednesday. Bus services were offered late Wednesday afternoon from Northampton.
It was noted that mobile homes, recreational vehicles, and other campers may be vulnerable to high wind damage.
Price gouging was outlawed by the state attorney general and late book fees were waived in advance for the Eastern Shore Public Library. The libraries announced closures for Thursday and Friday, Sept. 13 and 14.
Esther Evans, who works at the Exmore Hampton Inn and Suites in Exmore, said reservations had been coming in steadily but picked up after the evacuation order. “Monday evening into early Tuesday morning we sold out,” she said.
As of Wednesday morning, when Florence appeared to be taking a more southern track, Holiday Inn Express in Exmore still had rooms available.
On Chincoteague, residents and visitors were told the area could receive impacts starting late Wednesday or early Thursday with “high winds, heavy rainfall, and dangerous coastal flooding,” according to a report issued by E. Bryan Rush, director of the town’s emergency services. A mandatory evacuation for all visitors began Wednesday morning.
Councilwoman Denise Bowden told it like it was to those looking for her guidance. “I do not know if we will have major flooding or hurricane force winds. No one knows this. If your gut instinct tells you to evacuate, then go. There is no shame in being scared. I cannot tell you where to park your vehicles. If you wish to put them on higher ground then seek out friends who have higher ground. If you choose to stay, then prepare accordingly in case we have worst case scenarios. Food, water, candles, meds, pet food, etc.”
Concerns for the welfare of the herd of famous wild ponies poured in on Facebook to what appeared to be all Chincoteague-related pages. “The ponies are fine,” Bowden reported. “They have the natural instinct to seek higher ground. They are much safer out on Assateague than they would be corralled at the carnival grounds.”
“Don’t be an ass and leave your dog outside tied up or in a pen,” she also commented. “This is just wrong on so many levels,” she continued. Also, “Keep an eye out for the elderly and those that don’t have family to turn to. Be smart and keep your patience. Nerves can get on edge. Being hot-headed will not do you any good. Don’t chastise those that evacuate. For some, this is their first major storm, they are nervous and on edge. Leave them alone and don’t make them feel worse than they already do.”
“There are more that will never leave than those who will leave,” Bowden told the Post.
“A Teaguer will dig down in the marsh mud and stay put and will only leave when they have absolutely exhausted their resources … If you are not a resident, you have to leave. I could not tell you how many people that may impact. It would be hard to gather numbers when you also have vacation homes to account for.”
In Cape Charles, Mayor Smitty Dize said much of the old town area is in Zone A. “Town staff is working to prepare public streets and facilities for the impending storm. Residents can help by removing objects from porches, decks, and yards that can be moved and blown area by strong storm winds. These blowing objects pose a danger to people and property. Please take care to remove trash cans from the street and curb.”
The public works crew has moved the LOVE sign as a precaution and warned residents to stay off the beach and fishing pier during the storm. Bay Creek is making its golf course parking lot available for city residents. “Residents should stop at the Bay Creek Gatehouse and obtain a Guest Pass to be placed on the rearview mirror,” reads an advisory from town officials Wednesday morning. The town will be posting updates on www.capecharles.org
“There are many homes in Cape Charles that have part-time residents… it would be prudent … to pay attention to your neighbors’ homes as well as your own,” Dize said.
On Tangier Island, Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge said 279 of 400 residents were staying. “They were monitoring the weather stations. They continue to monitor. A lot of the folks who are staying have their own boats and would leave and take their families to a safer harbor, maybe Crisfield,” Md., the mayor said. “They’re getting their (crab) pots up as a precaution. They’re preparing.”
“We don’t have so much trouble with a storm surge,” he continued. “We can get one in the bay, but usually ocean beaches and bays” and “the Western Shore” of the Chesapeake have more of a concern. Still, high tides in the last few days on Tangier were marked as high as they were with Hurricane Isabel, he continued. “People are concerned because we already have this much water.”
It had been recommended during a Tangier town meeting that those with medical issues and the elderly go to the mainland. Phone service on the western side of the island goes in and out with the tide, a Tangier woman said. A list of those staying was compiled by town officials so everyone could be accounted for.
A notice from emergency coordinators in both counties warned, “Although the exact track of Hurricane Florence is unknown at this time, we will be feeling impacts from this storm. Flooding, high winds, heavy rainfall will impact the area.”
“Regardless of your evacuation zone, emergency management officials are advising all residents to prepare for high winds. Residents should continually monitor local media outlets for information regarding the track of Hurricane Florence. Storm movement is subject to change.”
Just before press time Wednesday, Northampton officials announced its Emergency Operations Center would open Thursday, Sept. 13, at 9 a.m., when county operations were scheduled to cease at the offices of the county administrator, finance, information technology, commissioner of the revenue, treasurer, planning, permitting and enforcement and the voter registration. Northampton’s landfill and all six solid waste collection sites will be open Thursday, Sept. 13, until noon. The clerk of the court’s office will be open Thursday. A decision about Friday hours will be decided Thursday. Normal county operations will resume as soon as it is safe to do so, an announcement said.