Hurricane Florence has yet to write her full page in area history books but the prospect of the devastating Category 4 storm hitting the area stirred memories of the last time a storm that big, Hurricane Hazel in 1954, approached the area.
National Weather Service Meteorologist James Morrow said Harnett County can expect as much as 10 inches of rain related to Hurricane Florence, with most if it falling Friday night into Saturday.
Meteorologists still predicted high winds and heavy rains, with the worst affects south of the immediate area.
“This will still be a substantial weather event for that part of the state,” Mr. Morrow said.
Those who lived during Hurricane Hazel’s visit in 1954 saw something much worse.
It was October of that year when devastating Hurricane Hazel became part of Harnett County legend.
Harnett was one of the storm’s many stops as it blazed a trail of destruction through the area as well as into other states along the east coast.
People alive now who remember the storm tell of memories of it hitting during the middle of the school day, on a Friday.
Like Florence, Hazel first encountered the east coast near the North and South Carolina border, bringing with it 150-mph winds and millions of dollars in damage.
Pictures of the stores damaged on the east coast are preserved at the Dunn Area History Museum.
Hazel then made a bee line north with local residents seeing the eye pass over Harnett County before bringing rain throughout the east coast. The storm eventually affected areas as far north as Canada.
Daily Record founder, the late Hoover Adams, described Hazel as “one bad girl” in coverage of the storm’s 50th anniversary in 2004. He described scenes of wind knocking residents down as they walked in downtown areas of Dunn.
People who lived through it agreed with that assessment.
“It was bad in Harnett County and in Lillington,” longtime Lillington resident Elaine Ivey said.
Ms. Ivey and other students in school at Lillington Elementary School were told to stay in school until parents could arrive to pick them up.
Former Lillington resident Glenn Hood remembers limbs blowing through classroom windows.
“We were terrified,” Mr. Hood said. “I remember my dad picking me up when the eye came over us and taking me home.”
Mr. Hood reported large historic oak trees along Front Street laid in the street after falling like match sticks.
Ms. Ivey was allowed to walk home because she lived within site of the school.
“I remember my mama saw me walking home and grabbed me and pulled me in the house,” Ms. Ivey said. “Then we got inside and put a big chair in front of the door and we waited it out.”
The scene was also chaotic at Erwin Elementary School. School leaders only learned of the storm minutes before it hit, meaning children were in the process of leaving even as the winds began.
Local historian Si Harrington got a lesson from his father in the middle of the storm.
“I remember we sat outside and watched the eye pass and he explained that it would be starting again,” he said. “Sure enough, in a few minutes it started back again.”
Mr. Harrington also described large trees falling.
“I remember they left some of the biggest holes these little old eyes have ever seen,” Mr. Harrington said.
He said part of Hazel’s terror was the lack of knowledge that it was coming.
“Today we know it is coming days ahead of time and we can get ready,” Mr. Harrington said. “Back then we heard it on the radio a little while before it got here.”
Schools Closed Today
Today, better technology allows schools to predict ahead of time and make appropriate plans.
All schools in Harnett, Johnston, Sampson and Cumberland counties closed early Wednesday and will remain closed today and Friday.
Campbell University’s main campus has now suspended normal operations through Sunday.
Shelters Will Open
One of the biggest issues officials in Harnett, Johnston and Sampson counties face is providing shelters.
Two shelters will open in Harnett County. One will be located at Triton High School and the other at Overhills High School. The shelter at Triton will be pet friendly.
Harnett County Emergency Services Director Jimmy Riddle said with sheltering comes other issues such as who should go to the shelters and who should remain at home. He said residents living in mobile homes should seek shelter, while those in constructed homes, should be able to shelter in place.
“We just don’t have enough room to shelter everybody in Harnett County,” he said. “We want to make sure those in mobile homes get to a shelter right away. They are the most vulnerable to damage.”
People in a constructed home should be safe as long as they pay attention to the weather and act appropriately. Mr. Riddle said preventing overcrowding at the shelters is key in this situation.
“People in houses should be able to weather the storm at home,” he said. “We want to make sure everyone in the county is safe, but we don’t have the room for everyone in the county to come to a shelter.”
Shelters in Harnett County will open at 8 this evening, instead of 8 a.m. today as originally planned. Johnston County shelters were scheduled to open Wednesday night and shelters in Sampson at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
In Sampson County, officials released an official list of shelters to the public. They include Clinton High School, Hobbton Middle School, Midway High School and Lakewood High School.
Transportation to the Sampson County shelters, especially for the elderly and disabled, will be available through Sampson Area Transportation, unless worsening weather conditions necessitate that such services cease. Those needing transportation should call 910-299-0127 and ask for the transportation coordinator.
“Officials with the Sampson County Department of Social Services and the Sampson County Health Department will man the Red Cross shelters along with other county agencies,” said a press release from Sampson County. “County and municipal law enforcement will provide security.”
In Johnston County, shelters will be open at Benson Middle School and West Johnston High School. The shelter at West Johnston High School has been designated as a pet-friendly location.
Those seeking shelter at West Johnston with pets have a few things to keep in mind. The pets will not be allowed to roam freely and there will be a designated location where the pets will be housed.
“We encourage residents to take all precautionary measures possible should Hurricane Florence impact central North Carolina,” county officials said on the Sampson County website. “Please continue to monitor radio, television and social media for further updates.”
Regardless of which shelter residents use, they are reminded to bring bedding, medicine, supplies for infants, comfort items and food items.
Alcoholic beverages and firearms of any kind are not allowed in shelters.
Safety Of EMS Workers A Concern
As a caveat for anyone who may be in danger during the storm and is in need of EMS services in Harnett County, there is a high-wind restriction for EMS personnel to respond to calls.
According to Mr. Riddle, if winds are 55 mph sustained or more, crews will not be able to respond immediately.
“For the safety of our responders, we’re going to have to stack those calls,” he said. “We’re no good if we can’t get there or if we don’t have the people to respond. If we get to the point we feel it is not safe, we’ll have to make that call. It’s not something we want to do, we feel it is in our best interests.”
Other Related Information
The Daily Record staff is busy making sure you get your local news. With the threat of Hurricane Florence, newspaper distribution will continue, although there may be some delays, depending on U.S. Postal Service operations and safety considerations.
“The Daily Record will be working with our distribution force as well as the post office to assure timely delivery as much as possible,” said General Manager Tracy McLamb.
Information will be continually updated via social media — visit www.mydailyrecord.com or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.
For more information regarding storm preparation, shelters and recovery, visit ReadyNC.gov.
The North Carolina statewide information line provides callers with nearby shelter, housing and other storm-related details. Dial 2-1-1 or 888-892-1162. The information line is staffed 24/7 to connect North Carolinians to storm resources.