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Former WDAY-TV anchor now working at South Carolina TV station braces for Hurricane Florence as it makes landfall

Riley Miller. Special to Forum News Service1 / 2
Riley Miller. Special to Forum News Service2 / 2

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Riley Miller has never dealt with a hurricane before in her life. Her first is shaping up to be one of the biggest the Carolina coast has ever seen.

With an estimated landfall of late Thursday night or Friday, Sept. 14, Hurricane Florence, a Category 2 storm, is expected to produce life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding and major river flooding to cities up and down the coast of the Carolinas through Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm is expected to dump 20 to 30 inches of rain with isolated amounts of up to 40 inches possible in certain parts of southeastern North Carolina, with peak winds reaching 110 mph.

“This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast,” the NWS in Wilmington, N.C. wrote in its Tuesday evening area forecast discussion.

For Miller, who is less than 4 years into her professional career as a journalist, covering Hurricane Florence has, to this point, been the story of a lifetime.

“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster,” Miller said. “Definitely exciting, but it’s made me a little nervous.”

A native of Kentucky, Miller made her first big move out of the state after accepting a reporting position with WDAY-TV in Fargo in July 2016. Miller would later transition into an anchor role as the co-host of “First News” before accepting her current role with WJCL-TV in January 2018 in Hilton Head Island, S.C., a resort town located 20 miles northeast of Savannah, Ga.

As news of Florence’s anticipated arrival began spreading this past weekend, Miller says she could begin to sense panic in her new community. A trip to the local grocery store was madness, she said, as shoppers rid the shelves of bottled water faster than anything she’d ever seen.

“It was like Black Friday,” Miller said.

On Monday, Beaufort County, which is home to Hilton Head Island, was placed under a mandatory evacuation order. At that point, Miller said, a lot of people were beginning to pack up and leave the area.

“Lines at the gas station and the traffic getting off the island was crazy,” Miller said.

Then, as Florence’s path became more clear, the mandatory evacuation was lifted just a day later.

Miller, who resides in the nearby city of Bluffton, which is more mainland, says she is safe where she’s at, but that hasn’t stopped her family from worrying about her.

As of Thursday afternoon, Florence’s path has shifted north towards eastern North Carolina and further away from Hilton Head Island, which is located near the southeast corner of the state near the Georgia border. The path of the storm could shift, however, once it makes landfall.

Despite the threat, Miller says through her reporting she has been encouraged by her community’s efforts to keep its residents safe.

“This morning (Thursday), I was working on a story about volunteers loading up bags of sand and putting them in people’s cars,” Miller said. “It was really a cool sense of community.”

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