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How Wilmington, N.C., Is Preparing As Hurricane Florence Gets Stronger

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Hurricane Florence became a Category 4 storm today, meaning it could be potentially catastrophic. The entire South Carolina coast is now under a mandatory evacuation order beginning at noon tomorrow. In North Carolina, evacuations of coastal communities began today. The state's governor, Roy Cooper, says there are three threats - ocean surges along the coast, strong winds and island flooding.

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ROY COOPER: The forecast places North Carolina in the bull's eye of Hurricane Florence, and the storm is rapidly getting stronger.

SHAPIRO: Wilmington, N.C., is currently in Florence's path. And joining us now is the city's mayor, Bill Saffo. Thank you for taking the time today.

BILL SAFFO: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about the kinds of preparations you're making right now in Wilmington.

SAFFO: Well, we just met with the governor. He just came in to speak to us at the emergency operations center here to tell us the gravity of the situation and what we're facing here and making certain that all of our citizens take all of the information that we're disseminating and taking it seriously. This is a big storm with high wind velocity. And it looks like right (inaudible) bull's eye of the storm is due (inaudible).

SHAPIRO: Your phone line is breaking up a little bit, but it sounds like the bull's eye of the storm may be heading right for Wilmington. As we said, there have been evacuation orders. As best you can tell, are people heeding those orders and moving?

SAFFO: They are following the evacuation orders. They are heeding what the governor has said, what the emergency operations command center has been telling us. And of course people are taking this storm very seriously. Obviously it's a big storm with high winds. It's currently at a Category 4. And right now, the bull's eye is our city, Wilmington.

SHAPIRO: What is your message to the people who say, I've been through storms in the past; I can ride out this one?

SAFFO: Please do not take that type of opinion. Get ready. Get evacuated. Get out because once this storm is upon us, we're not going to be able to get emergency operation folks to you until after the storm passes. This is a very serious storm, one of the biggest storms we've seen in quite some time. I know that this community and this area has seen quite a few storms over the years, but please heed the advice of the emergency operation folks, and leave when necessary. Make preparations. Get ready. You've got a couple of days to get ready to ride this thing out, and we want everybody to be safe. And you know, this is going to be a big one. And if it comes this way, we're going to be in for one - a big storm.

SHAPIRO: I know that Wilmington is near the southeastern tip of the state right between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River. With those two bodies of water surrounding where so many people live, how vulnerable is Wilmington to flooding and storm surge?

SAFFO: Well, very. But you know, we're concerned about the storm surge on this, and this is going to be a statewide event because if it comes through Wilmington, it's going to go right through the middle part of the state. So you know, where we've been able to deploy resources closer to the coast when we had major hurricanes like this that maybe skirt the coast and then move up the coast of North Carolina, up the eastern seaboard - this one seems to be coming into the Wilmington area and then goes right through the state.

SHAPIRO: All right, Bill Saffo, mayor of Wilmington, N.C., thank you for your time, and stay safe.

SAFFO: Thank you. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.