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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — New Hanover County leaders are getting ready for the effects of Hurricane Irene as the major storm moves north toward our coast. Elected leaders and emergency officials met this morning to figure out what to do to get the county ready for the storm, which could bring heavy rain, strong winds and high seas to our coast.

County leaders have decided to enact a State of Emergency starting at 6 a.m. tomorrow. Emergency Management has also suggested opening at least two shelters tomorrow evening. Voluntary evacuations are in effect for low-lying areas, mobile home parks or anyone in a structure that can’t withstand winds of 60 mph or more.

New Hanover County Schools will dismiss students at least two hours early tomorrow. Superintendent Tim Markley said that could be earlier, but that call will be made late this afternoon or early tomorrow.

Shelters will open at Dorothy B. Johnson Elementary School and Noble Middle School starting at 6 p.m. tomorrow. The shelter at Noble Middle School will also accept pets. If the storm is worse than expected or if the shelters fill up, a third shelter may open at Eaton Elementary School. That decision will be made later as needed.

Emergency Management Director Warren Lee says because of high winds, Snow’s Cut Bridge to Pleasure Island will most likely close at some point during the storm, as it typically does during a hurricane or tropical storm. The bridge will be closed when winds reach 40 mph, which is expected about 1 a.m. Saturday.

A public information center to call with any questions about the storm will open at 8 a.m. tomorrow. The phone number will be (910) 798-6800.

The Special Needs Task Force will start calling people on their list this afternoon. The task force will set up transportation if needed.

County officials expect tropical storm effects to reach Carolina Beach around 1 a.m. Saturday, Wrightsville Beach at about 2 a.m. Saturday and Wilmington around 4 a.m. Saturday. They expect there will be some roofing, powerlines trees down during the storm leading to scattered power outages. They also forecast minor to moderate coastal flooding, including the north part of Canal Drive in Carolina Beach and North Lumina Ave. in Wrightsville Beach.

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