Earl leaves Beaufort County mostly unscathed

Published 2:08 pm Saturday, September 4, 2010

Staff Writer

Hurricane Earl, which blew passed the North Carolina coast Thursday night, turned out to be a real zero in Beaufort County.
Zero power losses as a result of Earl. Zero road closures for trees. Zero bridge closures.
Most importantly, zero significant injuries or deaths.
“It pulled away at the right time,” said John Pack, Beaufort County’s emergency-services coordinator. “There was nothing close to the tropical storm-force winds we expected.”
According to Pack, the highest sustained wind speed in the county was 28 miles per hour recorded at the Washington’s Warren Field Airport. Belhaven recorded a gust of 41 miles an hour. Aurora’s biggest gust was 38 mph.
A disturbance is granted tropical storm status when sustained winds reach 39 miles per hour.
“This morning was like watching a whole different picture,” Pack said. “We couldn’t ask for more. Beaufort County went into this thing looking at its first Category 4 hurricane in county history and that was not something we wanted to see.”
Emergency officials opened shelters Thursday afternoon at Northside and Southside high schools. Three people checked into Northside while five spent the night at Southside. Both shelters closed at 7:30 a.m. Friday.
Beaufort County lifted most of its limited state of emergency at 3 a.m. Friday, including the voluntary evacuations and driving restrictions.
Hyde County was not as fortunate as maximum winds reached 73 mph on Ocracoke Island. There were reports of 3 feet of standing water in localized and low-lying areas which was expected to recede during the day as Earl moved northward. Power outages were reported in 90 percent of the county. All but a handful of customers in mainland Hyde County had power restored by 11:30 a.m., and Tideland Electric Membership Corp. expected to have all power restored by Friday afternoon.
American Red Cross volunteers from across the region descended on Washington to coordinate relief efforts for neighboring Hyde County. Emergency response vehicles, or ERVs, came from Charlotte, Greensboro, Columbia, S.C., and Rock Hill, S.C.
“We are prepared to have an ERV for every county,” said Lorrie Beach with the Greater Pamlico Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, which services Beaufort, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties.
Hurricane Earl provided a live training exercise for the various elements of Beaufort County’s emergency response team. Four weeks ago, they conducted a simulation with some worse-case scenarios.
“We had been training four weeks ago almost to the day with the emergency response center and with all the different partners,” Pack said. “We ran through scenarios, and some of the things actually happened (during Earl). You have those day-to-day things in addition to the hurricane issues. We talked about it in training, and now we put it into work. We will make some more changes. Each time, you find something to tweak to make sure it is smoother when the real thing comes.”
“You train for the worst, and this time we got the best,” Pack concluded. “We won’t always be that lucky. It’s just a matter of time.”