Virginia Beach City Manager Dave Hansen said Monday that he expects to declare an emergency situation later today and to order evacuations throughout Back Bay, Sandbridge and the southern watershed.
The biggest concern? Flooding.
Hurricane Florence, which is currently a Category 4 storm with winds at 130 mph, is projected to make landfall on the coast of the Carolinas on Thursday morning. A life-threatening storm surge could hit Southeast Virginia as early as Tuesday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center. There are two main projections for the storm.
"In either of the two landfall scenarios, we believe (the Back Bay, Sandbridge and southern watershed) areas will be in a higher risk category than anywhere else in the city," Hansen said.
Some shelters, in Kellam High School, Corporate Landing Middle School, the city's Field House at Princess Anne Commons and Old Donation School, will open Thursday morning. Additional shelters could open Friday and Saturday if conditions worsen.
"Please start thinking now about staying or going," said Erin Sutton, director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management. "It's a bright and sunny day, but make your plan today."
It is difficult to decide where residents should go, because other parts of Virginia may be hit harder by the hurricane, Hansen said.
"I'm a bit hesitant to evacuate citizens out of the city because I'm not so sure the risk elsewhere in the state is not greater than here in Virginia Beach," he said. "Taking out citizens and pushing them that far inland (to central Virginia), I can't promise you that that's the best choice."
So, the city is preparing to help residents bunker down at several shelters throughout the city.
In a best-case scenario, there will be a maximum capacity of 15,000 in the city shelters. There are nearly 100,000 people living in zone A, the most at-risk for flooding, throughout Virginia Beach.
"Our citizens are very adept at dealing with the volume of precipitation that we have experienced over the last three years," Hansen said.
When Hansen signs an emergency order later today, the City Council would then need to approve it tomorrow, which is required by ordinance.
Virginia Beach is still working on increasing the flood capacity of the city's overall drainage system, Mark Johnson, the public works director. City workes are pumping down some bigger lakes, like Asheville and Sherwood.
Public works is also double-checking its pump stations, generators and fuel tanks to ensure they're ready when the storm hits.
Johnson's office will coordinate with the Virginia Department of Transportation on any evacuation plans.
The last time Sandbridge residents were evacuated was in 2011 during Hurricane Irene.
"This is the time to prepare," said Sutton.
The city's emergency operation center will be open, she said. Residents can call 311 available around the clock to answer any questions, but they should still dial 911 for any life-threatening emergencies.
Dannette Smith, the director of the human services department, said Virginia Beach is still preparing their shelters. For those who go to a shelter, they should bring at least three to five days of bedding, medication, snacks and clothing, she said.