Damage assessments under way

Published 7:18 pm Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene destroyed the boathouse at McCotter's Marina Saturday. (WDN Photo/Ray McKeithan)

Assessments of Hurricane Irene’s devastation in Beaufort County and its municipalities are under way, with responses to that devastation under way, too.

Those assessments will show widespread damage — entire trees blocking streets, parts of roofs ripped off buildings and floodwaters throughout most of the city.

“Assessments have been taking place for about the last hour,” Josh Kay, Washington’s city manager, said about 4:40 p.m. today. “Crews are being prepared as we speak.”

As far as city officials know, the storm resulted in no fatalities or significant injuries, Kay said from the city’s Emergency Operations Center at the city’s newest fire station on West 15th Street.

Kay said crews face several challenges, including clearing water and debris from streets and restoring electricity to Washington Electric Utilities customers.

WEU crews won’t be alone as they begin to restore power overnight.

“We have contractors who are on site with us already,” Kay said.

Kay urged Washington residents to “stay home” tonight and through at least Sunday for their own safety.

The city manager asked any WEU customers without power to report such outages and locations of downed electric wires, tree limbs and trees by calling 975-9320.

Power was restored to some areas of downtown Washington by 5:20 p.m. today.

Numerous trees were down in the city’s Smallwood neighborhood, but there seemed to be no structural damage from one vantage point. Smallwood lost power at around 6 a.m. Saturday and remained without power as of 5:43 p.m. Saturday.

A tree had blocked Smallwood’s Reed Drive, but two volunteers with chainsaws removed that tree.

Meanwhile, a curfew is in effect in Washington until noon Sunday.

Irene dealt Aurora a beating.

“This has absolutely decimated this town,” said Mayor Clif Williams. “We’ve got trees down everywhere, power lines down everywhere.”

A tree had fallen on a power line on N.C. Highway 33, a main road through the town.

Until about 5 p.m., the tree obstructed traffic near the town’s welcome sign on N.C. 33, Williams said. The tree had been cleared by evening.

“And the water got high enough that it actually got up to the top of the bridge going over South Creek,” he said. “I’ve never seen it get that high.”

Main Street also was flooded for some time, though the flooding reportedly was subsiding Saturday night.

Fire-rescue personnel had been out rescuing stranded people by boat, the mayor said. Evacuees were being housed at the fire department’s building until they could be moved to a safer location.

Williams was unsure how many evacuees had been taken to the fire department.

“We really weren’t set up for this because everybody was asked to evacuate, but that didn’t happen,” he said.

Though there had been no reports of deaths or injuries in Aurora, police officials were patrolling town to make sure everyone was OK, Williams said.

“We are amazingly in pretty good shape,” said Belhaven Town Manager Guinn Leverett. “We had the highest water I think we’ve ever had.”

It was estimated that rain runoff, combined with a wind-driven storm surge, brought 7 feet of water into town, Leverett said.

Belhaven had no deaths or serious injuries as a result of Irene, as far as Leverett knew.

An apparent tornado tipped over a mobile home and knocked out power in one part of town Friday night.

The National Weather Service had yet to confirm a tornado touchdown, but eyewitness reports and damage on the ground pointed toward a tornado as the likely culprit, he said.

“We had the tornado, and that was probably only destruction to limb and not to life,” Leverett said. “We treated two people for very minor scrapes and abrasions.”

Few people were on the roads in Belhaven, and it seemed many had heeded evacuation orders, Leverett shared.

“They stayed off the street because normal people don’t have any business being on the street with 4 foot of water on it,” he said.

Tideland Electric Membership Corp. is bringing its employees in this evening to begin damage assessment in the southern section of its service area, said Heidi Jernigan Smith, Tideland spokeswoman, just before 5 p.m. today.  That area includes all or parts of Pamlico, Craven and Beaufort counties.

Tideland lost a major power transmission tower near the Walter B. Jones Bridge. It’s unlikely that tower will be repaired and power restored until at least Sunday, she said.

Meanwhile, flooding is a major problem around Tideland’s corporate headquarters in Pantego, Smith said.

Contributing Writer Betty Mitchell Gray contributed to this story.