RALEIGH, N.C. — Two homes were reported flattened and others damaged in central North Carolina when likely tornadoes touched down ahead of Tropical Depression Bonnie and Hurricane Charley. Meanwhile, the state is preparing for potential flooding.
There are reports that a
touched down in Harnett County near the town of Cameron. Two houses were completely destroyed and others were damaged.
A church in that area also sustained significant damage. Officials say three people were injured -- two transported to a local hospital.
Some 500 National Guard troops were put on alert and the entire Highway Patrol was told to be ready to respond quickly.
Forecasters said Charley appeared to be the bigger threat in North Carolina because its track was uncertain and it would bring more rain to an area already soaked by Bonnie Thursday night and early Friday. That set up a scenario where root systems of trees would be weaker and more likely to fall in wind gusts and damage property or power lines.
"I don't want to completely discount Bonnie because we're looking to have 3 to 6 inches of rain from her," said meteorologist Ron Humble at the Raleigh office of the National Weather Service.
He said rainfall was recorded at midday west of Winston-Salem and in the Charlotte area, with a radar estimate showing downpours of an inch in an hour.
"Then it looks like Bonnie gets through quickly and we'll have an 18-hour lull and then we introduce Charley, late Friday and in the early hours after sunrise Saturday," Humble said.
The storms appeared to be on similar paths, with Bonnie tracking roughly along Interstate 85 through central North Carolina and Charley a bit to the east, depending on where it comes ashore in Florida, Humble said.
"The area hit by Bonnie may be getting hit as hard or harder by Charley," he said. "But there's room for error in that. Most of the water is going to be falling over central North Carolina."
A spokesperson said no flights out of RDU International have been impacted by the weather, but the weather is delaying take-offs. It is the same problem for much of the East Coast. RDU officials suggest calling the airline before heading to the airport.
Utilities began preparing for the storms. Duke Power Co. lowered water levels in its generating lakes along the Catawba River over the past few days, said company spokesman Tim Pettit.
Progress Energy also prepared for potential flooding. The company was concerned that rains from the remnants of Bonnie would soak ground, making trees more likely to fall on power lines when what's left of Charley comes through the state Friday and Saturday.
"We've weathered enough tropical storms and hurricanes in the Carolinas to know that we must be prepared for the worst case scenario," Progress spokeswoman Julie Hans said in a statement.
In Durham, firefighters are on standby with their equipment and emergency generators ready to go.
North Carolina emergency officials, including the state Highway Patrol, National Guard and State Emergency Response Team, SERT, are watching the forecast closely.
"Today, our focus is really on trying to get a better idea, based on the weather forecast, about which areas of the state are going to be impacted," said Renee Hoffman, of Crime Control and Public Safety. "In this particular situation where the greatest rainfall is going to occur -- and trying to prepare the citizens and makign sure the counties are prepared for flash flooding."
Hoffman said the state has not taken any action, other than putting Highway Patrol troopers and swift water rescue teams on standby.
"Batteries in flashlights. We crank the motors to make sure they're running. Fuel in all tanks," said David Pease, of the Swift Water Rescue Team.
The REDS, rescue extrication delivery specialists, are based in Garner. They are one of eight swift water rescue teams now on standby.
"It can be very dangerous because people don't realize the power of water and that's why we do a lot of the rescues we do," Pease said.
Seymour Johnson is evacuating some of its F-15Es to Tinker AFB in Oklahoma Thursday afternoon because of the predicted paths and uncertainty of Bonnie and Charley.
The last time North Carolina endured a one-two punch of heavy rain was when Hurricane Floyd slammed the state on the heels of Hurricane Dennis. More than 50 people died.
"When you have two storms back-to-back, you will get a sizable flood in that area," said Jeff Orrock, of the National Weather Service. "We're not going to have a Hurricane Floyd here, but we are going to have two tropical systems within days of each other."
The expected result of the storms' rendezvous is severe flooding. How much depends on timing and how far apart the storms pass through.
"Two to 4 inches over 24 hours is not a big deal. Two to 4 inches of rain in two hours -- that's a major flood," said Dr. Ken Taylor, state emergency management director.
The National Weather Service says most flood-related deaths happen when people drive right into flooded streets. It asks people to heed its slogan: turn around, don't drown.