Waiting, preparing

Published 1:16 am Thursday, August 25, 2011

John Pack, Beaufort County’s emergency-management coordinator, describes the forecast path of Hurricane Irene Wednesday afternoon at his office in Washington. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

As Hurricane Irene churns toward coast, precautions are taken

Better safe than sorry.

That’s the approach many area residents, business owners, emergency-response personnel and others are taking as Hurricane Irene continues on a projected trek that brings the storm to eastern North Carolina, or close enough to cause concern.

Hurricane Irene was more than three days away from any possible U.S. landfall as of Wednesday morning, but local officials already were assessing the storm’s projected effects on Beaufort County.

John Pack, the county’s emergency-management coordinator, was staying in touch with government forecasters and monitoring the latest predictions from the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

As Pack conveyed reports from the NHC and other sources, Irene was a large, powerful Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph.

Because of the storm’s size, even a glancing blow from Irene could have significant consequences for Beaufort County, he warned.

“Right now if it follows everything that’s there (in the forecast) the city of Washington could see winds sustained for a period of time of 60 mph,” Pack advised. “Belhaven could see sustained winds of 90 mph.

Obviously, the city of Washington’s time period would be less than Belhaven’s that would sustain those winds because of Belhaven’s proximity to the storm.”

Aurora could also be hard hit by flooding depending on the storm’s path, he said.

“The left side of this hurricane is building and building, and if projections are correct we could see 9 inches of rain in a 24-hour period,” Pack said. “That brings lowland flooding, that brings things like (flooding on Washington’s) 15th Street, that brings issues into Belhaven just from the amount of water.”

The winds could drive floodwaters into Belhaven and keep them there for a significant amount of time, Pack related.

“Our job’s to prepare for the worst, and the worst is we’re still in the cone of probability of this storm,” he said.

Disaster preparations

The American Red Cross is mobilizing volunteers, emergency-response vehicles and disaster supplies in preparation for a full East Coast response, if needed. Trailers already loaded with supplies for post-storm recovery are in staging areas such as Greenville, Rocky Mount and Goldsboro, according to area Red Cross officials.

“This storm is getting stronger as it moves toward the East Coast and people who live in or are vacationing in areas that could see its impact need to get ready now,” said Summer Woodard, executive director for the Greater Pamlico and Pitt County chapters of the American Red Cross. “We urge them to take the threat of Irene seriously and finalize their hurricane preparations and get their emergency kits ready.”

Local Red Cross-operated shelters are ready to open. (See accompanying information box for shelter locations.)

The Salvation Army’s Washington corps also is mobilizing for Irene’s possible arrival on the state’s coast. The Washington corps serves Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Washington, Tyrrell and Bertie counties.

Its disaster-response equipment and resources could be deployed anywhere they’re needed.

“We’ve gone out and purchased supplies,” said Lt. Chris Lyles, corps commander, on Wednesday morning. “We’ve got our mobile canteen/kitchen unit … ready to go.”

If needed, the mobile canteen would serve storm victims and emergency responders up to three meals a day for three days, Lyles said.

Salvation Army officials throughout the state will continue to monitor Irene’s track and respond accordingly, he said.


State parks in eastern North Carolina, including Goose Creek State Park in Beaufort County, will be closed to campers Friday and Saturday, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. The parks will be open to visitors today. Those parks could close on short notice, depending on the anticipated path of the storm.

Hyde County schools are closed today and Friday.

Tourists on Ocracoke Island have been ordered to evacuate.

Coastal Carolina Railway is planning to close the railroad trestle across the Pamlico River at Washington by 11 a.m. Friday, according to an email the City of Washington sent to boaters with vessels at the city’s docks.

Morgan Banks of Southern Pines was preparing to have his boat hauled out of the water at McCotter’s Marina east of Washington on Tuesday.

Banks keeps his boat at the marina and has a home close by.

“Hurricanes can be a bit challenging,” Banks said with a smile, soon adding, “It’s a crap shoot anyway, but being hauled seems to be safer than being in the water.”

Though Irene’s precise track was unknown, Banks wasn’t going to leave his boat at the mercy of water that could soon be churned up by the hurricane’s wind-driven tides.

“It might not matter much or it might matter for everything, so it’s hard to say,” he pointed out.

Brendan Morris is general manager of the Hampton Inn in Washington.

The hotel normally isn’t open to locals, but that policy will change if a weather emergency occurs and evacuees look for places to stay, Morris said.

Irene already had made a difference in the Hampton Inn’s bookings as of Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ve had a few people cancel already, and we’ve had a few people make reservations due to that,” Morris said Tuesday. “So, it’s almost kind of evening out in a way.”

Beaufort County Red Cross Shelters

Notifications regarding shelter openings and locations will be given through media outlets.

Primary emergency shelters:

  • P.S. Jones Middle School, 4105 N. Market Street Extension, Washington
  • Northside High School, 7868 Free Union Church Road, Pinetown
  • Southside High School, N.C. Highway 33 East, Chocowinity

Secondary emergency shelters:

  • Washington High School, 400 Slatestone Road, Washington
  • Chocowinity Primary School, 600 Gray Road, Chocowinity
  • Chocowinity Middle School, 3831 U.S. Highway 17 Business South, Chocowinity
  • Eastern Elementary School, 947 Hudnell St., Washington
  • Beaufort County Community College, Building 8, U.S. Highway 264 East, Washington
  • Bath Elementary School, 110 King St., Bath
  • Northeast Elementary School, U.S. Highway 264 East, Yeatesville

Pet owners may arrange to have their pets boarded at a kennel or with a veterinarian, or they may take their animals to the Beaufort County animal shelter, 3931 U.S. Highway 264 East, Washington.