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They aren’t coming to avoid Hurricane Florence. So who is coming to York County?

People fleeing fleeing Hurricane Florence aren’t filling up local hotels. But soon people might be coming here to help with recovery.

Unlike hurricanes the past several years, with forecasted impacts more confined to the coast, Florence isn’t bringing a run on York County hotel rooms. There hasn’t been a surge of people from the beach.

“Everything seems to be moving along fairly smoothly at this point,” said Billy Dunlap, director with the county visitor bureau. “The majority of our hotels still have vacancies.”

Christmas trees used to bolster sand dunes are washing out to sea as strong winds and high surf begin hitting the Carolina coastline. High surf, wind and water levels were observed as Hurricane Florence approached on September 13.

Dunlap has been in contact all week with hotels, which combine for about 3,400 rooms countywide. He also has been in contact with state emergency management, including discussions Thursday morning. State-level response to Florence has Dunlap believing many of the now vacant rooms won’t be for long.

“I think what’s going to happen is you’re going to see a lot of utility workers fill these rooms, because I know they’re staging them around the state,” he said.

By mid Friday people will need to be in place to help get York County and other areas back up with power, water, sewer and other vital services. Marc Howie with York Electric Cooperative said 60 cooperatives in the Carolinas could be routed to wherever help is most needed, and others in Georgia and Virginia have been contacted for help.

“Some of those people should be arriving Saturday morning in case they’re needed,” Howie said.

In a media conference call Wednesday, Duke Energy storm director Howard Fowler said about 20,000 workers are ready to restore power throughout the Carolinas. The more than 8,000 utility workers in the Carolinas will be joined by others within the company, and more than 9,000 workers from other companies.

“We’ve been developing plans for staging areas and bringing in all available crews from our service area, including the midwest and Florida along with resources from other companies across the southeast,” Fowler said.

York County hotels had more than 70 percent occupancy Sunday from residents evacuating parts of Florida, Georgia and other areas impacted by Hurricane Irma.

Utility workers needing somewhere to stay in York County should be able to find it. Winthrop University had a major cross country event this weekend which had hotel rooms booked, but it was postponed.

Ben Benson is the general manager for the hotel and conference center at Heritage International Ministries near Fort Mill. The past couple of years, hundreds of guests came up from Hilton Head to avoid hurricanes. The hotel area was full as storm coverage played out on big screens in the main lobby.

This year that group decided to go south.

“We’ve seen a little trickle of people coming in,” Bensen said. “Certainly our staff is welcome to come here and stay.

“I don’t think we’re going to get many people, honestly, because a lot of them are just going to look at a map of Charlotte and see where the storm is supposed to come, and steer clear.”

Yet as with most everything so far with Florence, conditions could change.

While storm tourism isn’t his typical task, Dunlap and his team are hard at work monitoring room availability. If utility workers are filling the rooms, bringing with them potentially life-saving services to get the area back on its feet, Dunlap said he will take it.

“We will open our doors for them any time,” he said.

John Marks: jmarks@fortmilltimes.com; @JohnFMTimes
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