09/04/08 — Wayne on storm watch

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Wayne on storm watch

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on September 4, 2008 1:55 PM

Hurricane watches were issued early this morning for the North and South Carolina coastlines as Tropical Storm Hanna appears to be drawing a bead on Wayne and Duplin counties.

Hanna, still a tropical storm this morning, was expected to develop into a Category 1 hurricane before it makes landfall potentially near Wrightsville Beach on the North Carolina coast late Friday or early Saturday morning. The storm's project path could take it over Wayne County.

But "old-hand" residents who have weathered hurricanes know that "you are not sure where it's going until it goes past you," Delbert Edwards, Wayne County emergency communications director, said Wednesday afternoon of the uncertainty surrounding Hanna.

While uncertainty still abounds about where and when Hanna will strike and how violent it will be when it does, officials in Wayne and Duplin are planning their strategies to cope with the storm and its aftermath.

Forecasters say the storm could dump up to three or more inches of rain while packing wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour.

Meanwhile, until more definite information is available, preparations center on monitoring the storm's development and ensuring that necessary equipment and supplies are available and ready for use.

It will likely hit on the 12th anniversary of Fran, a Category 3 storm that packed sustained winds of 115 mph and gusts up to 125 mph. Fran dumped up to 10 inches of rain along her path leaving large swaths of the county under water. The town of Seven Springs and the Mar Mac community were among the hardest hit areas.

As for Hanna preparations, the stories are the same in both counties.

"The biggest thing right now is monitoring the storm and talking with the state," said Duplin County Emergency Services Director Brian Pearce.

"Any kind of tropical weather has the potential for torrential rainfall causing flooding in low-lying areas," Edwards said.

Days later that flooding can be exacerbated as rivers overflow their banks, Edwards said.

The storms can also spawn tornadoes.

While low-lying areas are subject to flooding, rural areas and their abundance of trees create concerns about downed power lines, blocked roads and damaged structures. It can also be a problem in Goldsboro with its tree-lined streets, he said.

"Of course, we are always monitoring health care and nursing homes to ensure they have what they need to care for their patients," Edwards said.

"Right now we are monitoring the storm and having conference calls with the state emergency management," Edwards said. "We are making sure our emergency operations center (in the Jeffrey's Building) is ready if we need to activate it.

"We are checking our inventory to ensure we have everything we need. We check, then double check."

The county is also taking care of preventative maintenance, making sure generators are working properly and testing equipment in case the county has to open its operations center.

Pearce's office recently moved into new quarters on Seminary Street just down from the county administrative building where Duplin County commissioners meet.

Since the move has not been completed, an operations center, if needed, will be located in the commissioners' meeting room.

Representatives of the Sheriff's Office, fire marshal's office, emergency medical services, emergency management, power company and state Department of Transportation would operate the operations center.

If a shelter is opened, the department of social services also will be represented.

"Right now the predictions look like it primarily will be a rain event for us and some wind," Pearce said. "I don't anticipate opening any shelters, but we are continuing to watch the storm track."

Both counties will utilize their new Code Red emergency alert systems to issue emergency and weather advisories.

Pearce said one of the biggest concerns in the county has been flooding along the Northeast Cape Fear River. The county will monitor that area as well as the flood plains, he said.

Edwards said that people with emergencies in Wayne can call 911, and that the dispatcher will contact the necessary department, depending on the nature of the emergency.

"If there is a tree down in the road, we notify (the state Department of Transportation) to respond," he said. "But if it is a more critical situation, like a tree down on a house, we may call the fire department out, and if someone is injured, we will dispatch EMS."

Each area of the county is covered by the 911 emergency system, but each municipality's fire department will serve that area, unless they need help, Edwards added.

In times of weather emergencies, he said that the two departments that are dispatched the most are fire and law enforcement.

"When we start getting a lot of high winds, lightning and power outages, a lot burglar alarms and fire alarms go off from the power surging," he said. "And we have to respond to those."

In a case of emergency, Edwards urges everyone to be patient if there is no medical or life-threatening emergency.

"Unfortunately, we do have limited resources," he said. "If we are in a situation where we are overly taxed with a high volume of calls, we try to prioritize the calls. Calls that are life threatening in nature would of course take priority."