Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell had a message Friday for residents that could be affected by Hurricane Irene: prepare now, because tomorrow it’s going to be too late.
He said that the Hampton Roads area should expect to see a flood surge of between 3 and 6 feet, and low-lying areas in Portsmouth and Norfolk could see surges of up to 9 feet due to the storm.
“It’s very important for all of our friends in southeast Virginia if are going to go anyplace, they need to do it now,” he said.
Mr. McDonnell said he’s been in constant contact with local and national officials, including North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and that they would be in position to help after the storm passes.
“Everybody in the state, not just along the coast, needs to be prepared,” he said. “For most, it will be the most significant weather event of their lifetime.”
Forecasters have predicted the hurricane to make landfall in the state at approximately 2 a.m. Sunday. Mr. McDonnell said that the impact is likely to be equal to or greater than that of Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
He briefed state legislators on a conference call Friday morning and was planning to visit emergency operations centers in Hampton, Virginia Beach and Norfolk Friday afternoon in preparation for the hurricane.
The governor also spoke by phone with President Obama and East Coast governors and mayors. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate were on the call.
Mr. McDonnell has also ordered a 3 p.m. closing of state offices in potential hurricane impact areas, which include the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News, Suffolk, Chincoteague, Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Poquoson and counties of Isle of Wight, Lancaster, York, Gloucester, Middlesex, Matthews, James City, New Kent, Northampton, Northumberland, Richmond and Accomack.
State employees in other areas of the state will not be released early but are encouraged to watch the storm and prepare accordingly.
The governor has also declared a state of emergency in the wake of Tuesday’s earthquake that was centered in Mineral, Va. It applies to all areas of Virginia including, but not limited to, Louisa and Culpeper Counties. The declaration was made after damage assessments appeared to be more extensive than initial reports, aftershocks have exacerbated it, and high winds from Hurricane Irene threaten to cause further mayhem.