ROCKINGHAM — Refugees fleeing the wrath of Hurricane Matthew have arrived to take shelter in local hotels, and the rooms are filling up fast, according to Rya Adams, a Days Inn employee.
“We have had about 20 from the coast,” Adams said early Friday afternoon. “Our rooms aren’t sold out, but we’re getting there.”
Ammie Stubbs, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express, said there will be no more rooms available by tonight, and that several groups of people from the coastal Carolinas and Florida began booking rooms and suites around midweek.
“They started coming in on Wednesday and Thursday,” she said. “Mostly they’re coming from South Carolina, and some from North Carolina. We had one family from Florida who made a reservation and they came up.”
In an email sent out Friday afternoon, Nicholas Petro from the National Weather Service said even the Sandhills should brace for impact.
“The latest set of weather models continues to indicate extremely dangerous rainfall amounts across portions of central N.C.,” he said. “As such, we’ve updated our (forecast) from this morning’s briefing to increase the danger and urgency across the southern I-95 and Sandhills areas.”
The eastern half of Richmond County, according to a graphic from NWS, should be ready for “severe impacts that could lead to significant threat to life and property.” The western half of the county is expected to see more localized impacts of the same kind.
At 3:45 p.m., President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in North Carolina, according to the Associated Press. The declaration puts the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of disaster relief efforts in the state, including providing equipment and needed resources.
Gov. Pat McCrory says he’s about worried that the storm could lead to heavier rains than previously estimated at or near the coast, and cause power outages from high winds.
Obama has already declared states of emergency in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, the other states in Matthew’s path.
Hilda Ross and Lanie Baldwin, next-door neighbors from North Myrtle Beach, decided to go west in search of a safe haven from the rapidly deteriorating weather conditions. They decided on the Holiday Inn Express in Rockingham.
“We live two blocks off the ocean,” Baldwin said.
Ross said as soon as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley issued the mandatory evacuation, that’s when they decided to head inland.
“If you don’t evactuate, they warn you that medical services are not available to you,” she explained. “In fact, as I was driving up here today, I heard that people who were electing to stay, their 911 calls were not being answered, by the dozens.”
She said the traffic on the way into town was “not bad at all.”
“We live up on the north, and we came up Highway 9 and then wiggled over to (U.S.) 74,” Baldwin said. “We didn’t have any traffic this morning. It’s still calm there. We’re not looking for the real heavy stuff to come in until late tonight and tomorrow.”
Ross said she has evacuated on two previous occasions.
“I went up to Chapel Hill one time, and the hurricane came right over it,” she said. “Another time I went to Bennettsville. Those are the only two times I’ve actually left.”
Baldwin said she went through Hurricane Hazel in 1954.
“We actually did not evacuate,” she said. “We went back a little bit further on the other side of (U.S.) 17, but there weren’t very many people who lived there then. I think it was a category four or five and it went head-on into Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.”
Asked what advice they have for last-minute decision makers, the neighbors agreed.
“I always rely on our governor,” Ross said. “When the governor says leave, you should leave.”
“Always better safe than sorry,” Baldwin said.
“I think this is a big one,” Ross added.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.