Thursday, February 29, 2024

City Manager: Virginia Beach ‘breathing a sigh of relief,’ as Florence changes course

Most recent track of Hurricane Florence from the National Hurricane Center, issued at 11 a.m. Wednesday (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the National Hurricane Center)
Most recent track of Hurricane Florence from the National Hurricane Center, issued at 11 a.m. Wednesday (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the National Hurricane Center)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Following a “significant change” in the track of Hurricane Florence, City Manager Dave Hansen announced Wednesday that the city has altered its sheltering plan and is “breathing a sigh of relief.”

However, Hansen said he recognizes the hurricane is still unpredictable.

The city is remaining vigilant of the storm, Hansen added, although it is “unlikely” to strike Virginia with the intensity predicted just 48 hours ago.

“Clearly the storm has taken an unprecedented realignment and we’re very grateful for that,” Hansen said.

Forecasts now have the Florence making landfall in southern North Carolina and curving south — away from Virginia Beach — due to a large high-pressure ridge hanging over the Mid-Atlantic region.

According to the National Hurricane Center, (11 a.m.) Florence, a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm, was centered 485 miles (785 kilometers) southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, moving at 15 mph (24 kph). It was packing winds of 130 mph (215 kph) and enough moisture to dump feet of rain on that region.

“Projected impacts to our city have been significantly reduced,” Hansen said. “The risk has been reduced on all the data elements that we use to consider public safety.”

Related story: Navy sets tropical cyclone condition of Readiness II in Hampton Roads. Here’s what that means

Accordingly, Hansen said adjustments are being made to the city’s emergency shelter plan. Deputy City Manager for Public Safety Steve Cover announced the following changes during a Wednesday news conference:

  • The Virginia Beach Field house will not open Thursday morning as previously planned.
  • Kellam High School will still open as a shelter Wednesday at 6 p.m., with a capacity for 1,000, and will be a medically-friendly facility able to shelter 50 people. The 50 medical beds will not be operational until 8 a.m. Thursday.
  • No other tier-one shelters will be opened at this time. Those are:
  1. Corporate Landing Middle School
  2. Old Donation School
  3. Field House
  4. Landstown High School
  5. Green Run High School
  6. Tallwood High School

As for the evacuation, Hansen said that is “the personal choice of residents, who I know will make the most informed decision.”

The evacuation of Zone A by Gov. Ralph Northam was “intended to wake up our citizens,” Hansen said, adding Florence is still a dangerous threat to the Carolinas.

“However, that threat as it exists no longer applies to Virginia Beach,” Hansen said.

Rainfall and storm surge forecasts are now a fraction of what they were two days ago, Hansen said, with predicted winds “on low end of tropical storm-force,” which range from 39 to 73 mph.

The Southern half of Virginia Beach is also less at risk for significant flooding because of the change in wind intensity and direction, Hansen said, but minor coastal and street flooding could still occur in certain areas. 

As the city keeps watch over Florence’s next move, Hansen said the city “will be ready and prepared to reactivate sheltering should a change in the track occur.” 

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