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Some Navy ships that went to sea to avoid Florence set to return on Sunday

The U.S. Navy sent ships to sea Monday from the Hampton Roads area in Virginia to escape effects of Hurricane Florence. The ships are expected to start their return on Sunday, the Navy said.

JUSTIN WOLPERT/U.S. NAVY

By MARTIN WEIL | The Washington Post | Published: September 16, 2018

Navy ships will begin returning to southeast Virginia on Sunday but at least one jurisdiction on southwestern Virginia declared a state of emergency on Saturday, as officials predicted that Tropical Storm Florence might threaten parts of the state with catastrophic flooding this week.

The Navy said Saturday that nearly 30 surface ships would "start to return" to the Hampton Roads area on Sunday.

Aircraft were to make their way back to their Hampton Roads bases Saturday, the Navy said.

According to an announcement from the Navy, the plan for the return of aircraft based in Norfolk would give priority to helicopters that could provide support to civilian officials if requested.

In its Saturday statement, the Navy said the decision to bring its ships and aircraft back came after thorough inspections of port and airfield facilities.

Two ships are to remain at sea, ready to provide support to civilian authorities, if needed, the Navy said.

The Navy sent ships to sea Sept. 10 to avoid Florence, then a hurricane.

Meanwhile, Roanoke County officials declared a state of emergency Saturday in what they described as a precautionary step.

According to the county, the declaration makes it possible to ask for state and federal resources if needed.

As remnants of what was Hurricane Florence reached the Roanoke area Friday night, the county government said more rain fell than was expected. Additional rainfall could affect those areas of the county more prone to flood, the county government said.

In addition, the county said a regional shelter operated by the American Red Cross opened there at 1 p.m. Saturday. Roanoke is about 240 miles southwest of Washington, D.C.

The actions came as southeastern Virginia appeared to be essentially unaffected by Florence, but the latest forecasts from the National Hurricane Center said the remains of the storm could bring dangerous conditions this week to parts of west central Virginia.

In its latest advisory, issued at 2 a.m. Sunday, the hurricane center said that in areas of west central Virginia, north of Roanoke and west of Charlottesville, three to six inches of rain was expected early this week. In isolated spots eight inches were expected, the hurricane center said.

It said those amounts could result in life-threatening flash floods and river flooding. In addition, the hurricane center said, an increased risk for landslides was expected.

Originally a hurricane, Florence has been downgraded to a tropical storm. But it has brought heavy rain and widespread flooding. The hurricane center said it was expected to become a tropical depression Sunday morning.

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