State officials have measured response to Irma

Posted September 11

WRAL News was at the state Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh throughout the day monitoring the response to Hurricane Irma.

6:10 p.m.: We're going to wrap this up from the NC EOC. To sum up: Irma has not packed the punch today in North Carolina that it might have, and the state's response has mostly been to monitor the storm. North Carolina assets may soon head south to help in other states. Gov. Roy Cooper's public schedule for Tuesday lists normal government meetings and, for the first time in at least five days, no storm briefings or Irma-related events.

Rain and wind will continue overnight, and power outages may multiply, especially in the western part of the state. Flash flooding may occur in some areas, but rain estimates are lower than once feared, and long-term flooding is not expected. Landslides along mountain roads remain a possibility.

5:30 p.m.: The primary impact in North Carolina from this storm continues to be power outages. Duke Energy says there are some 5,500 people without electricity now, mostly in western North Carolina. There are more than 2,500 in Jackson County alone. There are a number of outages in Charlotte, where }WCNC NBC Charlotte says it is running off a generator.

4 p.m.: A number of power outages have been reported, particularly in the western part of the state, down near the South Carolina and Georgia borders.

Duke Energy shows about 900 people without power in Jackson County, and the state emergency center has gotten a number of reports of downed trees there. There are also notable outages on the southern end of North Carolina's coast and in Mecklenburg County. Whatever problems these and other areas are experiencing so far, they have not put out the call for help.

"The counties are handling all of this so far," state Division of Emergency Management spokesman Keith Acree said. "We've not had any resource requests yet."

3:45 p.m.: Here's a quick by-the-numbers to give an idea of the resources the state stood up as it prepared for Irma:

  • 311: Total number of National Guard personnel activated. Most are at the ready, but 20 are backing up volunteers and local officials manning the five shelters North Carolina opened to help evacuees from other states.
  • 9: Number of Guard Heavy All Hazards Response Teams in Greensboro (three) and Asheville (six). These teams each include two Humvees, one LMTV (think big green truck) and seven soldiers.
  • 170: Number of National Guard soldiers attached to the big engineering task force at the ready in Charlotte. This team handles "cut and shove" work, removing trees from roadways, and is even equipped to handle hasty road repairs.
  • 22,000: Gallons worth of bottled water the state has in a warehouse in Badin. Also there: Roughly 280,000 packaged meals and 6,500 tarps.

1 p.m.: Rainfall estimates for western North Carolina have ticked down a bit, lessening what were already minor flooding concerns along the French Broad River near Asheville.

The state's Division of Emergency Management says localized flash flooding and mountain landslides can't be ruled out in the western part of the state, though, and that sustained winds of 20 to 35 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph, may down trees and take out power lines.

Crews at the Emergency Operations Center are monitoring Irma and coordinating response from a series of break-out rooms that surround the larger, and largely empty, situation room. This larger room is used for routine briefings, but the minute-to-minute work here gets handled in the break-out rooms.

One room houses National Guard liaisons. Another has representatives from the Red Cross and other entities that handle human services. There's another for infrastructure, where officials monitor power systems and water supplies. Law enforcement and fire officials have a room. There's another for logistics and the movement of equipment.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a room, and a conference call is underway there now that touched on ongoing airlifts of supplies to Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean.

Many of the tools that the state relies on to monitor storms are publicly available. One worker simply googled "Duke Energy outage map" to look for power outages on the utility company's webpage. Expectations for the French Broad River, which Gov. Roy Cooper labeled a potential flood risk this morning, are based on gauges updated online at the state's Flood Inundation Mapping and Alert Network.

The river is now expected to reach only the "monitor" stage, peaking without flooding some time Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.

11:58 a.m.: I'll be touring the Emergency Operations Center shortly, meeting some of the people keeping an eye on Irma, so check back for updates. For now, spokesman Keith Acree says much of the focus is on resource management – deciding when the state can cut loose resources pooled ahead of a storm that doesn't seem like it will seriously impact the state so they can be available to send Florida's way, should they be requested. You don't want to make those calls too early, Acree said, nor too late.

10:30 a.m.: Gov. Roy Cooper's press conference has wrapped. He said North Carolina will continue to work with Congress on funding needed to recover from Hurricane Matthew and that this sort of funding typically comes down in stages. Asked whether he has any concerns about "crying wolf," since people who prepared for Irma and now see it largely missing North Carolina, Cooper said the supplies bought and plans made may prove useful later and that "hurricane season is not over."

"I have no regrets about that at all," he said.

10:22 a.m.: Per the head of emergency management, the North Carolina National Guard sent a C-130 down to Key West to evacuate a nursing home there. It was a one-day mission. Another C-130 was sent to the U.S. Virgin Islands to deliver personnel, a forklift, a generator and other supplies. But all resources, including others sent to Houston for Hurricane Harvey recovery, are back in the state.

10:20 a.m.: Wildfires in western North Carolina have left the area more vulnerable to rock slides from wet weather. "We hope it doesn't happen, and obviously, we're going to get a lot less rain than initially had been forecast ... we don't necessarily expect anything specific, but we want people to be ready."

10:18 a.m.: North Carolina opened five shelters this weekend for evacuees heading north. Most use them to rest ahead of another leg of their journey. Shelters will stay open in Gaston, Guilford, Henderson, Johnston and Mecklenburg counties until they are no longer needed. Call 211 for locations or download the ReadyNC app.

10:15 a.m.: The most serious effects are expected Monday afternoon and evening. Gov. Roy Cooper says isolated tornadoes are possible. Western North Carolina may see landslides due to rain. Flash flooding is also possible. The state is monitoring river levels along the French Broad River near Asheville, but officials do not expect serious flooding. Minor coastal flooding.

10:13 a.m.: Gov. Roy Cooper begins with a short remembrance of 9/11 first responders and others and suggests people pray for first responders dealing with Irma. "The forecast and expected impacts to North Carolina remain relatively unchanged. We're grateful that the brunt of the storm seems to be missing us." Some effects in western North Carolina, though. "We're not out of the woods yet." Pay attention to forecasts and be prepared.

10:08 a.m.: Gov. Roy Cooper will brief the press on Tropical Storm Irma in a few minutes. A Duke Energy spokeswoman is here and says the company has 4,500 people ready to respond to problems in the Carolinas. It sent another 1,500 from the Carolinas to Florida and have a total of about 8,000 people there.


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