09/11/18 — Wayne prepares for brunt of the storm

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Wayne prepares for brunt of the storm

By Joey Pitchford
Published in News on September 11, 2018 5:50 AM

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North Carolina Department of Transportation crews Monday repair close to 100 barricades in preparation for road closures due to flooding and washouts as a result of Hurricane Florence. About 25 of the signs were damaged by general wear and from being run into by cars during and after Hurricane Matthew.

With Hurricane Florence anticipated to hit coastal North Carolina Thursday, Goldsboro and Wayne County emergency personnel are putting the lessons learned from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 to use in mitigating the storm's impact.

As of 5 p.m. Monday, the Category 4 hurricane was packing 140 mph maximum sustained winds and moving west-northwest at 13 mph about 525 miles of Bermuda. The storm is expected to continue that trajectory leading up to late Wednesday night, when a turn toward the northwest is expected to send Hurricane Florence directly toward the South Carolina or North Carolina coast Thursday morning.

Hurricane Florence rapidly grew from a Category 3 to a Category 4 storm Monday and is expected to produce life-threatening storm surges when it slams into the coast Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. Large amounts of inland rainfall is expected and current projections have the storm pounding at least 10 inches of rain across Wayne County during a seven-day period.

The National Weather Service forecasts include the possibility that the hurricane may stall after making landfall, which can lead to prolonged, heavy rainfall for several days. The storm is expected to strengthen even more before making landfall and is anticipated to become an "extremely dangerous major hurricane" on Thursday, the NWS reports.

The menacing storm set the stage for local preparation efforts by residents, many which bought food, water and other supplies, during the weekend. By Monday morning, area N.C. Department of Transportation crews, local government, emergency personnel and other agencies started to prepare for the worst.

Wayne County Emergency Services Director Mel Powers, who led the county's Emergency Operations Center efforts during Hurricane Matthew, is gearing up to reactivate the EOC, located in the John Street Jeffreys Building, this week.

The county EOC is the central communication hub for area disaster relief agencies in Wayne County that coordinate preparation, response and recovery efforts during natural disasters. The center will regularly receive field calls from observers as well as partners representing area fire departments, Emergency Medical Services, law enforcement and others involved in making our resources are deployed to the most needed areas. After the EOC is activated, a contact number will be released to the public, Powers said.

On Monday, no plans were announced regarding area shelter locations for residents needing a safe place to ride out the storm.

Powers said Hurricane Florence is predicted to be fierce storm that could produce significant flooding in the area.

"This storm can be a very dangerous storm, and a very heavy water-producing storm," Powers said. "We are asking people to listen to officials (and) not to go out."

This year, the EOC will enlist local HAM radio operators that Powers expects will expand the center's communication capabilities.

Also Monday, Goldsboro public works department crews began working out a plan for how to handle the storm, said Rick Fletcher, public works director.

Coordinating the city's storm response is no small task, he said.

"What aren't we doing right now?" Fletcher said.

"(We're doing) everything from refuse to the water treatment plant, getting ready for the storm, you name it."

The city of Goldsboro's trash pickup slated for regular pickup on Friday will be serviced two days early this week, on Wednesday.

Goldsboro's Water Treatment Plant on Jordan Boulevard that provides drinking water for residents is also a concern for local officials after the facility nearly flooded after the Neuse River crested following Hurricane Matthew.

Fletcher said the facility also had issues during Hurricane Floyd in 1999 when water rose several feet around the facility. He said public works staff are anticipating a similar situation from Hurricane Florence. Workers have started adding soil and other materials to build berms and other protective structures around the plant.

Scott Stevens, Goldsboro city manager, said that flooding at the treatment facility could have a range of consequences for city residents.

"It could be something as simple as a boil advisory," Stevens said.

Significant flooding at the plant would impede the facility's ability to treat water and could result in water becoming unavailable citywide.

This time around, the public works department is taking a more proactive strategy in dealing with flooding.

"We're coming up with a game plan to make sure that water is still going to be available for the citizens and it's not going to jeopardize the water plant," he said. "We're coming up with a way to barricade what we need to barricade, so it's about protecting the infrastructure. The transformers and switch gear and stuff like that."

Fletcher said some public works employees will be out during the storm to block off roads, which may wash away, at least until conditions become too dangerous to stay outside.

"It's kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of situation," Fletcher said. "If you don't go out and block the roads, somebody could get hurt. But if you do, the barricades are likely going to get blown away pretty quickly.

"I think that if we can block off those roads for four or five hours before the event hits, maybe we can keep some people off it."

Luther Thompson, road maintenance supervisor with the N.C. Department of Transportation's Wayne County maintenance yard, said that much of what his and other departments will do is based on how much rain falls and where.

The DOT is staging equipment throughout the county, in order to react quickly if needed, Thompson said.

"If it's anything like Matthew, you'll have roads that are washed through, so we're trying to get to those as quickly as possible and get them closed off," he said.

DOT crews will remain on the roads as long as it is safe to do so, Thompson said.

"We'll try at the beginning, maybe when the wind gusts are real low around 30 (mph)," he said. "Maybe you'll have a couple trees fall over. If we can address those, we will.

"Once the winds sustain around 40 miles (per hour), for the safety of our employees, we'll take cover and then go out and address the issues once it's safe."

Thompson and Fletcher urge residents to stay off the roads whenever possible during and shortly after the storm. In the aftermath of the storm, public works crews will push debris to the sides of roads, in order to allow people to travel, Fletcher said.

Driving around during the storm can put not only your life, but the lives of anyone tasked with saving you at risk, Fletcher said.

"I just ask people to let the emergency responders do their jobs," Fletcher said. "If they don't go out and get in trouble, we don't have to put ourselves at risk to go help them. If there's no need to be out, don't be out during the storm."

Fletcher asked that people remain patient once the storm passes.

"If it's anything like past storms, if we get the brunt of this, it's not something that we're going to be able to recover from in a day or two, a week or two, even a month maybe," he said. "It's going to take several weeks."

Despite the impending storm, Fletcher remained confident in his department's ability to keep cool and handle the problem.

"We just want everybody to be safe," he said.

"When we're out in the midst of all of this, it's just as clear as day. Once things happen, this is what we train for."