WILMINGTON — New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David said that he and Chief District Court Judge J.A. Corpening were conducting a courtroom in the county jail Wednesday afternoon to clear room for looters and other criminals who will be active after Hurricane Florence’s landfall.
For the past three days the county has moved inmates to prisons outside the impact zone and even to other states, according to David. They also released inmates with “low-lying misdemeanors” on their own recognizance.
“There is a vacancy sign on our jail,” David said as southeastern winds began picking up at Trask Middle School Wednesday afternoon, where he, Judge Corpening and Sheriff Ed McMahon were touring Wilmington’s first established hurricane shelter. “We have room for people who are going to show the worst about humanity after something like this.”
Such people include those who enter unoccupied residences due to the city’s mass evacuation, loot properties suddenly exposed to the elements, or practice in price gauging that often follows in the wake of hurricane cleanup, according to David.
Sherriff McMahon said that after the Trask shelter reached full capacity with 240 people earlier in the day, Wilmington’s Codington, Johnston and Eaton schools opened at around 3:30 p.m. this afternoon; Codington reached full capacity by 5:30 p.m.
While the press was not allowed into the school building, New Hanover County spokeswoman Ruth Smith described the scene.
“Everybody’s anxious … I think people are pleased to have a roof over their head, and God-willing it stays that way,” Smith said
Sheriff McMahon stressed the importance of law enforcement in handling post-hurricane looting.
“We’ll definitely be out in between the storm and after the storm, in the neighborhoods, in subdivisions, watching for anybody who wants to do crime,” McMahon said.
David pointed to a goodness that often emerges in communities like Wilmington during a catastrophe.
“We know the world is watching. The storm brings out the very best and worst in communities. We have been no stranger to hurricanes in this area, and I know the best is going to emerge,” David said, adding that he has already seen neighbors helping neighbors evacuate and board up each other’s homes, and looks ahead to the coming courage of first responders.
“They are not evacuating,” David said of the county’s firefighters, EMS, and police officers.
He said FEMA is on standby and that Governor Roy Cooper and U.S. Congressman David Rouzer have both personally ensured that “we have everything we need” in the coming days.
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@localvoicemedia.com