They weathered Harvey; now they brace for Flo

This enhanced satellite image made available by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence off the eastern coast of the United States on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 at 5:52 p.m. EDT. (NOAA via AP)

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — Almost exactly one year after weathering Hurricane Harvey in San Antonio during the Navy graduation for their daughter, a Jasper family is again facing a giant storm as Hurricane Florence speeds toward the East Coast.

Merrill and Melissa Osterman’s son, Harry Seng-Osterman, graduated from Jasper High School in 2018 and immediately joined the Marines. He’s currently stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, right in the path of Florence. Merrill returned to Jasper Tuesday with Harry’s fiancee, Miranda Durcholz, a 2017 JHS graduate, and the couple’s dogs, but Harry decided to stay on base with his fellow Marines.

Hurricane Florence, currently a Category 2 storm, is expected to hit the Carolinas and Virginia Friday morning, with the outer bands of the storm hitting today. As of this morning, forecasts expect the storm surges from the storm to match a Category 4 hurricane, although the storm’s winds have dropped to about 80 mph, making it a Category 2 hurricane. Still, the storm is expected to dump up to 40 inches of rain while it hovers over the Carolina coast.

“I don’t want to be stuck in Indiana while everyone down here needs help,” Harry said in a phone interview Wednesday morning.

During the call, he was in the midst of helping friends board windows and sandbag outside their homes. He and Miranda live on the second floor of their building, so he had less preparation work to do at his home. He did, however, move furniture and belongings away from the windows and duct taped an “X” on the windowpanes. That way, if the windows shatter during the storm, glass shards won’t cover the floor. On Tuesday, Harry said, he helped a 14-year-old boy load sandbags on the beach.

Harry Seng-Osterman graduated from Jasper High School in 2018 and immediately joined the Marines. He’s currently stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, right in the path of Florence.

In preparation for the hurricane, which was a Category 4 storm until Wednesday evening, officials issued mandatory evacuations for roughly 1 million people living on the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia. A lot of people loaded U-Hauls and left, Harry said, and Merrill and Miranda encountered several traffic jams, exacerbated by highway construction, on their way back to Jasper.

While the surrounding areas were ordered to evacuate, Camp Lejeune opted not to issue a mandatory evacuation for its Marines, although Harry said soldiers who wish to leave can.

According to a Facebook post on Camp Lejeune’s page written by Brig. Gen. Julian Alford, there are several reasons for the decision not to issue mandatory evacuation for the camp. First, evacuation routes are prone to flooding and are already under stress due to evacuations. Second, most of the camp is not in a flood prone area and is well reinforced with its own utility infrastructure, emergency supplies and shelters. Third, the camp has resources, shelters and personnel who can assist the surrounding communities in the storm’s aftermath.

“Since 1941, this base and its Marines have been postured to deal with crises at home and abroad and Hurricane Florence is no exception,” Alford wrote in the post. “Marines take care of each other, and I will expend every available resource to make sure that happens. Further, if our neighbors in Jacksonville and Onslow County need our help, we will be ready to render assistance.”

Given the Marine mindset, Merrill said it wasn’t a surprise when Harry decided to stay on base.

“It’s a worry,” Merrill admitted. “But it’s comforting to know he’s with the Marines, and the Marines have withstood this stuff since 1941.”

Thanks to their experience with Hurricane Harvey last year, the Ostermans have an idea of what to expect. The biggest threat will be the rain, Merrill said. Weather forecasts predict up to 40 inches in some areas, and the potential storm surges caused by the storm will add to the flood threat. The other major threat will be the extreme winds, which could persist up to 48 hours, according to forecasts, because Florence is expected to stall just off shore.

Utilities wise, Merrill figures electricity will be the first to go, so once cellphone and laptop batteries die, communication with Harry could be cut off. There’s also no guarantee the cellphone networks or internet will still function.

“We’re telling him to load up on battery packs,” Merrill said. “But there’s no guarantee.”

Tropical storm-force winds are expected to hit the coast by this morning ahead of Hurricane Florence’s landfall on Friday.




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