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Ahead Of Hurricane, Va. Governor Declares State Of Emergency


Hurricane Florence is now a Category 4 storm, and it could be the most intense, most damaging hurricane to hit parts of the Atlantic coast in nearly 30 years. Florence is forecast to make landfall by Thursday, but more than a million people in North Carolina and South Carolina are already under mandatory evacuation orders. Hundreds of thousands more are also under orders to leave parts of Virginia for higher ground. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued that order. He joins us on the line from Richmond. Governor, thanks for being here.

RALPH NORTHAM: Good morning, Rachel. Thanks for having me on this morning.

MARTIN: You declared a state of emergency for Virginia over the weekend even though, as I noted, the storm isn't expected to make landfall till at least Thursday. Why did you decide to declare so early?

NORTHAM: Well, there's so much preparation, Rachel, that goes into these storms. And, as you know, they're unpredictable. They have a mind of their own. And so in order to get our resources that we need, we found it necessary to declare a state of emergency on Saturday. And, you know, we have the Department of Emergency Management in Virginia, the Department of Transportation, our - excuse me - our Virginia state police, our Department of Health and our National Guard. All of these people have to get, you know, ready to do their jobs. And they're doing it very well, but we just want everybody to be safe. And, you know, preparation is the most important thing.

MARTIN: What parts of the state specifically are you most focused on right now?

NORTHAM: Well, obviously, the coastal areas, Rachel, are, you know, very vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge. And so we actually have four zones. It's a new system that we have in Virginia. So I ordered a mandatory evacuation of Zone A yesterday or yesterday evening, which is our lowest lying area. And we're going to monitor the other zones very closely. But we have encouraged people in Zone A to move to higher ground and inland and just - we want to keep everybody safe.

MARTIN: Some of the areas you have ordered to evacuate are places that face real economic challenges. Do those residents and other vulnerable populations - thinking about disabled people, thinking about elderly people - do they have the resources they need to get somewhere safe?

NORTHAM: Yes, and we're - you know, we're obviously assisting them. We have shelters that are set up on the local regions, and also we'll have some state shelters as well. But, you know, this is why we have to do these things in advance because, just to your point, the people that are in areas where if they have disabilities or, you know, those types of problems, we want to make sure that they have plenty of time to get to higher ground.

MARTIN: Virginia is also in a unique position in that it's home to a lot of federal facilities - CIA headquarters, the naval base at Norfolk, a lot of other sites. I assume you're getting help and cooperation from the federal government to make sure these facilities are secure.

NORTHAM: We are, and, you know, yesterday, I spoke with the president, and we encouraged them to order a state of emergency so that resources will be available. Our Navy ships in Hampton Roads, they left and went out to sea yesterday. So, again, a lot of preparation goes into these events.

MARTIN: I mean, there have been some serious storms to come through Virginia in recent years, but it's not like Florida, right? It's not a place where preparing for storms is just in people's DNA.

NORTHAM: (Laughter).

MARTIN: How concerned are you that residents in Virginia understand the seriousness of the threat?

NORTHAM: Well, I believe anybody that, you know, has access to the Internet and access to a TV can see and hear of, you know, the disasters we've had in the past. And, you know, if you look at history, we've had some very serious storms and hurricanes in Virginia over the years. So this is a very, very powerful storm. Again, these storms have minds of their own. And we just want to make sure that everybody is prepared. And one of the things, Rachel, I encourage people - those that do have to evacuate that, you know, power - we could lose power for a number of days - could be a week or two. So I encourage these folks to, you know, take the supplies, the water, the medications that they may need to last a week and just want them to be safe.

MARTIN: Get your emergency kits in order.


MARTIN: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam - thank you so much for your time this morning, Governor. We appreciate it.

NORTHAM: Thank you so much for having me on, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.