Local News

Would The Triangle Be Ready For Mass Evacuations?

Posted September 26, 2005 8:52 a.m. EDT

— Would Triangle-area residents be able to evacuate from the area in an emergency situation? Many are wondering after 2 million people tried to flee Houston in advance of Hurricane Rita.

Now, try to picture what could happen if 60,000 people, at the same time, tried to evacuate from the 10-mile peripheral near Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant in Holly Springs.

In January, the Triangle saw first-hand what happened when an unexpected winter storm hit the area, causing thousands of people to hit area roads at the same time.

State emergency management officials say there is a plan to use the media to disseminate information about routes people can take from the nuclear plant area. Law enforcement would be deployed to set up roadblocks and keep traffic moving. But not everyone is convinced.

"We feel that we have a very good plan in place that's executable," said Gary Faltinowski, a spokesman for the North Carolina Crime Control and Public Safety.

Some local officials, however, think in an emergency situation, trying to flee the area could be a disaster in itself.

"If we have a power plant crisis, we're not going to be able to escape," said Holly Springs Town Councilman Chet Van Fossen.

Most of Holly Springs' 15,000 residents live within the Sheraon Harris evacuation zone. They would all have to rely on two-lane country roads to get out of town in the event of an emergency.

In a town that is growing by two families a day, Van Fossen says that is a problem.

"I, as a town councilman, do not believe that is adequate," Van Fossen said.

Holly Springs officials say part of the answer is the western leg of Interstate 540. Two lanes on both sides could be routed out of town. But this summer the North Carolina Department of Transportation delayed construction of that part of I-540 indefinitely.

State emergency officials insist people are safe with the roads they have, but acknowledge the need for more roads.

"We know that the growth that has occurred in that area is really taxing our infrastructure and we always try to examine this," Faltinowski said.

Faltinowski says emergency officials are constantly reviewing emergency plans, making adjustments and learning from each crisis the state has, such as January's ice storm gridlock or hurricanes that have hit the state.

As for the western leg of I-540, the DOT says 2012 is the earliest it will start buying the rights-of-way; no date has been set for construction.