CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Residents of western North Carolina, still trying to recover from last weekend's flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Frances, prepared Wednesday for a second dose of heavy rains, strong winds and tornadoes if Hurricane Ivan follows its predicted path.
"Unfortunately for western North Carolina, it's a worst-case scenario," said Neil Dixon of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C., who said Ivan is expected to stall over the Southeast after it makes landfall.
"We'll see the first bands on Thursday and the rain will increase Friday and Saturday," he said on Wednesday. "(We) are expecting anywhere from four to six inches of rain in Charlotte," while some parts of the North Carolina mountains could receive as much as 15 to 20 inches of rain.
"Some places in the mountains will get some strong winds of 40 mph and some peak wind gusts of 60 mph," Dixon said. "When you have heavy rain and water-laden trees, you have to expect widespread power outages."
Finally, tornadoes could occur in the foothills and the Piedmont, he said.
Fifteen inches of rain would cause flooding rivaling that caused by Frances, said the weather service, which issued a flood watch Wednesday for 28 counties in the Piedmont and mountains. Some of those counties suffered heavy flooding from Frances.
The heavy rain also could trigger mud and rock slides, forecasters said.
Tim Miller, the western coordinator for the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management, urged residents to closely monitor weather reports.
"If they are calling for extreme amounts of rain and you live in the foothills, you need to really pay attention," he said from a command post Wednesday. "With the amounts they are talking about, it could be real bad."
Miller said some communities haven't had enough time to clean up from deluges that forced rivers out of their banks last week across the region.
"We still have a lot of damage out there," he said. "If we get more, it's going to fester like a blister."
In Haywood County, prison inmates were enlisted to help pack sand into plastic bags while officials in Canton and Clyde prepared evacuation plans. New pumps were installed at a sewage treatment facility at Blue Ridge Paper Products in Canton.
The mill's facility, which treats sewage for the town, failed during flooding last week, sending raw sewage into the Pigeon River.
State Department of Transportation crews removed debris from around bridges in anticipation of more high water.
In Raleigh, representatives of more than 40 state agencies met Wednesday afternoon to begin mobilizing for potential recovery and rescue efforts.
The counties have been encouraged to issue evacuation orders for low-lying areas and those in danger of flash floods and landslides. The American Red Cross is prepared to assist with shelters and the Salvation Army and Baptist Men's Club have already been in western North Carolina assisting with human service needs from Frances.
The State Emergency Response Team is expected to fully activate with members from more than 40 state agencies and volunteer organizations later this week, but the N.C. Department of Crime Control & Public Safety and its Division of Emergency Management are already putting resources in place to aid western North Carolina.
SERT sent more than 57 truckloads of bottled water to western North Carolina counties after Frances, and is ready with more as it is needed.
The Governor will activate the National Guard in advance of the storm. The state's Urban Search and Rescue and Swift Water Rescue Teams are being pre-deployed. Nineteen of the teams will be in 14 western counties and four teams will be staged at their home bases in the central portion of the state.
The Swift Water Rescue Teams made more than 370 rescues and/or evacuations after Frances. People who drive into floodwaters or go kayaking, and end up requiring rescue, are not only placing their own lives in danger, but the lives of the rescue teams as well.
The Highway Patrol has 144 troopers ready to deploy to support officers in the western and central areas of the state. Effective 2 p.m. Thursday, an additional 642 Patrol members will be placed on alert.
The departments of Transportation and Forest Resources have crews ready to go for road repair, debris clearance and clean up.
All divisions have barricades, pipes and portable message signs ready in case they are needed.
"There's no getting out of this. We're going to have very significant flooding in the mountains," Doug Hall, a meteorologist with the state Division of Emergency Management, said at the briefing.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has declared 15 western North Carolina counties a disaster area because of flooding from the remnants of Frances.
At the peak of the flooding, more than 250 roads were closed. Landslides damaged highways and wastewater plants spilled millions of gallons of untreated water. Dozens of homes and businesses were destroyed.
Some home and business owners paid little attention to the looming storm as they concentrated on removing ruined furniture and clothes from nearly 400 damaged structures along the Pigeon River.
"It's like throwing your life away," said Ricki Mehaffey as she helped friends Ronald and Jeannell Bryant clean their home in Clyde. "They worked for 30 years to get all this stuff, and it took 30 minutes to wash it away," she said.
Ronald Bryant was relatively unconcerned with Ivan.
"The damage is already done," said Bryant, whose house was submerged in more than 4 feet of water last week. "If it comes through, I won't be here."
In Canton, Mayor Pat Smathers said city workers will work through Thursday to remove storm debris left over from Frances.
Other preparations include bringing in a large generator to keep the city's water treatment plant operating even if there's a power outage.
Emergency officials will set up their command posts on higher ground to avoid a repeat of last week, when the city's fire department and police department were hampered by rising floodwaters, Smathers said.
"The last thing we're going to do is to just pray," he said Wednesday. "There's some things we can do and then we have to hope for the best."