Waiting, watching

Published 1:43 pm Thursday, September 2, 2010

Staff Writer

As Hurricane Earl continues on its collision course with the North Carolina coast, officials at the Beaufort County Emergency Management Center anticipate the worst.
“We’re continuing to prepare for this hurricane to come ashore as if it was coming straight to Washington, North Carolina,” John Pack, Beaufort County emergency management coordinator, said. “You can never be totally prepared for Mother Nature. You can just be better prepared than last year.”
Beaufort County emergency officials were expected to reach a decision this morning concerning school closings and shelter openings.
In its 11 a.m. advisory Wednesday, the National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning for coastal areas from Bogue Inlet to the North Carolina-Virginia border, including the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds. A tropical-storm warning also was issued from Cape Fear north to Bogue Inlet. With sustained winds of 135 mph, Earl remained as a Category 4 storm. The National Weather Service is expecting a frontal system to eventually push Earl to the east.
A hurricane warning is typically issued 36 hours before the first occurrence of tropical storm-force winds. People within the warning area are encouraged to complete their hurricane preparations.
“The eye of the storm should pass 50 to 60 miles off Cape Hatteras,” Pack said. “The majority of Beaufort County will have tropical storm-force winds, with Belhaven and Aurora having stronger winds and gusts. We’re watching very carefully the eastern part of the county.”
In Hyde County, a state of emergency was declared at 9 p.m. Tuesday with a mandatory evacuation order issued at 5 a.m. Wednesday for all visitors and residents of Ocracoke Island. Tideland Electric Membership Corp. executed its emergency response plan Wednesday, which included Ocracoke.
“We don’t anticipate an impact inland,” said Heidi Smith, corporate communications manager with Tideland. “We have our eyes on the Ocracoke office and the personnel there, which includes lifelong residents of the island. We had a discussion with them, and it is at their discretion to leave if they feel they need to.”
Tideland has a generator on Ocracoke, one which could provide enough power to run the island in the event of an outage. Smith cautioned residents about the use of home generators after the storm.
“Our No. 1 concern during a storm is public safety,” Smith said. “We are always concerned about the general public using backup generators. That is really the No. 1 hazard during a hurricane post-storm. If they don’t have them properly grounded or too close to their home, there is a major risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning.”
Washington Electric Utilities also implemented its emergency plan to handle potential power outages.
“Everyone is on notice and materials are stocked,” said Keith Hardt, executive director of Washington Electric Utilities. “We’re ready. We made contact with our contractors, and they are standing by.”
Hardt strongly encouraged people to stay away from any downed power lines and call the 24-hour emergency number (252-975-9320) should they lose power.
Beaufort Regional Health System began preparation for Hurricane Earl on Tuesday afternoon with a managers’ meeting to “get people on go and ready,” Susan Gerard, BRHS acting chief executive officer said. “We know the drill. We are prepared.”
In the event of power outages, the hospital maintains emergency generators which can provide electricity until municipal power is restored, she said. The hospital also maintains a four-day supply of food and linens in the event of an emergency. It is well-prepared to accept patients from other hospitals, if needed, in the event that those hospitals are forced to evacuate, she said.