Local News

Easley Declares State Of Emergency Over Flooding Concerns

Posted September 7, 2004

— Parts of North Carolina are beginning to feel the effects of Tropical Depression Frances. As a result, Gov. Mike Easley on Tuesday issued a state of emergency and a flood watch has been issued for a large part of the state until Wednesday.

Officials believe a tornado touched down in Robeson County Tuesday afternoon. Tornado touchdowns were also reported in Anson, Columbus and Mecklenburg counties, Gov. Mike Easley said, though there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries there.

Mountain areas braced for several inches of rain and the threat of flash flooding as Tropical Depression Frances reached into western North Carolina Tuesday night. Forecasters predict up to 8 inches of rain around Asheville before the storm's expected departure Wednesday night. A

flash flood watch

is in effect for a large portion of the state through Wednesday.

Easley held a press conference Tuesday to discuss the state's response efforts as remnants of Frances as it moved into the state.

"Let me reiterate: The biggest concern we have associated with Frances is not hurricane wind damage," Easley said. "It is water, it is flood damage, and it is tornadoes."

"Citizens need to take precaution during the next several days. Those who live in low-lying areas should make arrangements to stay with friends or relatives on higher ground until the storm, and the chance of flooding, passes," Easley said. "Even citizens who do not live in flood-prone areas should make certain that they have an evacuation plan in case of an emergency. Small creeks can flood quickly and it is critical that people stay tuned to their local weather forecasts for the latest storm information."

Easley also activated the state's emergency information bilingual hotline at noon to provide callers with details about Tropical Depression Frances.

The hotline will provide updated weather information, highway closings, shelter information, feeding sites and will also serve as a referral line for people in need of help following the event.

English- and Spanish-speaking people should call toll-free

1-888-835-9966

; those with hearing impairments should call

(877) 877-1765

.

Bands of heavy rain and wind from Frances would continue sweeping through the state on Wednesday, National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Strickler said.

"That tornado threat will extend right on through the day tomorrow," Strickler said. "The other threat would be heavy rains, 2 to 4 inches, mainly west of (Interstate) 95."

In the early afternoon, Strickler said the remnants of Frances were moving north at 10 mph and expected to continue for the next 12 hours before speeding up on Wednesday and starting to curve to the northeast.

Authorities were trying to confirm a reported funnel cloud touchdown Tuesday afternoon in southwestern Mecklenburg County.

At Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church, about 55 children were attending preschool when warning sirens sounded.

"We had a tornado touch down and it blew over so many big trees," said church secretary Frances Campbell. She said children, teachers and about two dozen seniors who were attending a church nutrition program huddled in an interior hallway until the storm passed.

A minivan parked next to a large tree outside the church was knocked onto its side when wind uprooted and toppled the tree, she said.

"It just happened so quick," Campbell said. "We heard a roaring sound and it blew the front and side doors of the church open. Trees were blown over everywhere."

There were no injuries and the church sustained only minor damage, she said.

Paige Sheehan, a spokeswoman for Mecklenburg County's MEDIC emergency services agency, said there were about a dozen vehicle accidents during the peak of the storm.

Officials in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools told students to evacuate their mobile classrooms and move into the main buildings. The school system also canceled all athletic events and practices, as well as evening activities involving students, families, teachers and staff.

The first bands of the storm were felt in western North Carolina at sunrise. Jackson County emergency management personnel were measuring the depth of streams at several bridges across the county. By noon, more than an inch of rain had fallen.

Easley said 125 National Guard soldiers were deployed in western North Carolina to help handle any flood emergencies, and the Highway Patrol had put 900 troopers on alert.

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