08/31/06 — Wayne officials prepare for rain

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Wayne officials prepare for rain

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on August 31, 2006 1:45 PM

As experts predict Tropical Storm Ernesto to make landfall on the Carolina coast sometime this evening, local officials said they, too, are preparing for the storm.

Goldsboro City Manager Joe Huffman said he has been keeping a close eye on Ernesto's projected path for the past few days.

"A few days ago, we didn't know what was going to happen," he said Wednesday. "Now, we're anticipating and preparing for a rain event."

As part of the preparation process, Huffman said the city's General Services department has been cleaning debris out of storm drains -- to prevent backups and reduce flooding. Still, he added, some areas that experience problems with standing water after smaller rain events are likely to wake up to similar ones Friday.

Heavy rainfall associated with Ernesto will spread across the region from this afternoon through the evening.

Wayne County Public Schools announced mid-morning that schools would dismiss early today because of the impending storm. Schools were expected to dismiss at 1 p.m. and all after-school activities were cancelled.

As of this afternoon no delays have been set for Friday, but school officials are monitoring the situation.

Drivers are urged to use caution on the roadways, as ponding can be expected, especially late this afternoon and into the evening.

Although river levels are well below flood stage, they could rapidly rise if heavy rainfall develops over the headwaters.

Goldsboro, Wayne County and Mount Olive officials are preparing for the storm, clearing storm drains and removing debris to reduce flooding.

The Wayne Red Cross has 60 volunteers on call if more than the predicted damage occurs.

"I would say that in the low-lying areas, folks could potentially have problems," Huffman said. "I don't anticipate a major flood, but we might have water in the streets and that kind of thing."

Officials in Mount Olive are also worried about flooding -- so much so that Town Manager Charles Brown said throughout the day, "all available personnel" will be hitting the streets.

"You might even see me out there," he said this morning, shortly before holding a staff meeting to map out a strategy for watching all the culverts, ditches and man-hole covers over the town's storm drains.

Brown added the town has already installed retention ponds in two places and today, staff will make sure water is flowing away from people's homes.

"We've been doing it for two days to give us a head start, and we will continue today," Brown said. "We have maps with elevations, but the best way to know for sure is to go out there and watch it. We'll have a lot of folks getting wet today."

Government officials aren't the only ones preparing for the storm. At the beginning of the week, local Red Cross volunteers were contacted and put on call, officials said.

Teresa Williams, disaster services director for the Wayne County Chapter of the American Red Cross said 60 volunteers are on call and ready to go at a moment's notice. In addition to the local manpower, she added, there are two emergency response vehicles from the Midwest that are staging out of Goldsboro, as well as six mass care volunteers from out of state.

When the storm is over, they will be sent to the affected areas, Ms. Williams said.

"They are ready to go after the storm goes through," she said. "We are keeping them here and out of harm's way until the storm is over and it's safe to send them out."

Wayne County's ERV is also ready to deploy, if Red Cross' national headquarters requests it, Ms. Williams added. Still, she said, the local Red Cross is not planning on opening any local shelters at this time.

"The storm is supposed to be a rain event and not a wind event," Ms. Williams said. "However, we will open shelters if there is localized flooding or if the shelter management group deems it necessary. We are encouraging everyone at this time to just keep an eye on the media to find out if we do open shelters, and to be aware of what's going on with this storm."

Huffman said whether Ernesto reaches the city as a hurricane or tropical depression -- or even a severe thunderstorm -- the goal of staff will always be to keep residents safe.

"The worst-case scenario is people being out in the weather," he said. "Taking unnecessary risks. Every single time we have a downpour, about 15 minutes later I hear those sirens going off."

And if minor flooding, downed trees or power outages occur, he hopes people will look out for their neighbors until help from the city arrives.

"It's as important for the city to look after people as it is for people to take care of themselves and their neighbors," Huffman said.