Emergency officials prepare as Hanna heads northwest

Posted September 3, 2008 5:56 a.m. EDT
Updated October 12, 2011 9:51 a.m. EDT

— Emergency officials prepared Wednesday for the threat of Tropical Storm Hanna, which started to head north-northwest.

During a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Mike Easley urged North Carolina residents to take Hanna seriously, adding that the storm could dump 10 inches of rain in some parts of the state and bring heavy wind gusts.

“If you're asked to evacuate, please evacuate," he said. "This is serious. You need to take it serious."

At 11 p.m. EDT, Hanna, which is responsible for at least 26 deaths in Haiti, was located about 160 miles east-southeast of San Salvador in the Bahamas, where Christopher Columbus landed. The storm knocked out power in the southern Bahamas on Wednesday.

The storm was moving north-northwest near 13 mph with maximum sustained winds near 65 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm appeared to be better organized and was expected to continue moving northwest during the next couple days.

Hanna’s barometric pressure dropped on Wednesday, which meant the storm was regaining some of its prior strength, WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.

“It will probably be tomorrow before we can home in and find out how strong it is going to be,” Fishel said.

Meteorologists expect Tropical Storm Hanna to accelerate and intensify into a Category 1 hurricane as it barrels toward the U.S. – perhaps North Carolina’s coast – possibly making landfall late Friday.

The state is prepared to deal with whatever Hanna brings, Easley said, but "personal preparedness" is also key.

"If you live in low-lying, flood-prone areas, you need to pay very close attention," he said.

Easley asked residents to leave immediately if asked to evacuate their homes. He said citizens should have enough food, fuel and clothing for three to five days in case they lose power or must leave their homes.

"It's stupid and dangerous to stay once you've been told to evacuate," he said.

Easley said U.S. Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff called him prior to the press conference to let him know the Federal Emergency Management Agency has promised to provide the state with anything it needs.

Easley has activated the North Carolina National Guard to help respond to the storm, with up to 270 troops expected to be in place by Friday. None were deployed to the Gulf Coast to respond to Hurricane Gustav because state officials knew they may be needed for Hanna.

Another 144 state troopers also are ready for immediate deployment. And about half of the state's swift-water rescue teams in the eastern two-thirds of the state are ready. Food and other emergency supplies are available at state emergency warehouses in Badin and Tarboro – an example of a state that is used to responding to hurricanes.

Emergency officials prepared for Hanna while keeping their eyes on storms named Ike and Josephine out in the Atlantic Ocean. Easley said preliminary forecasts indicate those two storms could take similar paths along the southeastern United States, with Ike causing problems by the middle of next week.

Ike strengthened on Wednesday night to a dangerous Category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic with maximum sustained winds near 135 mph.

Easley said the queue of storms poses unique logistical challenges. For example, you can't rely on moving equipment out of a hurricane-damaged region to another staging area because flooding or blocked roads may make that impossible.

"We have the personnel and equipment to deal with each one as they come along," but "you have to be prepared in advance" for each storm, he said.

Progress Energy officials said Wednesday that repair crews will be stationed to provide the best coverage for areas they think might be damages. Crews have also been cutting trees so they will be less likely to knock out power lines.

The Civil Air Patrol said Tuesday that units in North Carolina were alerted at about 5 a.m. by state wing commander Lt. Col. David Crawford to be ready to fly disaster relief missions.

Crawford said his wing has more than 1,300 members whom the Air Force and the state could use for surveillance and ground-support missions.

Officials at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro were readying about 80 F-15E Strike Eagles and three KC-135R Stratotankers to fly to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio on Thursday to avoid high winds from Hanna.

The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries asked fishermen to monitor Hanna, Ike and Josephine . It said fishermen should remove gear such as nets and crab pots from the coastal waters ahead of storms and check their own safety equipment.

The Coast Guard issued a Condition X-Ray notice for the ports of Wilmington and Morehead City, requiring that potential flying debris be removed, hazardous materials be taken away from dockside areas and commercial vessels of more than 500 tons get ready to leave port. The same applies to tank barges bigger than 200 tons.

Hanna has also started tearing at North Carolina beaches, eating away sand from areas already ravaged by erosion.

"Within the last two days, even, you can see ... the erosion of about 2 feet of depth, showing the sand that has been lost," Topsail Beach resident Todd Turpin said.

Nervous residents rushed to buy plywood and generators while emergency officials in Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas weighed possible evacuations.

In North Carolina, Cape Lookout National Seashore superintendent Russell Wilson ordered visitors to leave the seashore islands at the park, which will close at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Rangers at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore were pulling out hurricane plans, and emergency planners along the state's southern coast were preparing.

"It's going to put our county in hurricane-force winds for a while, which we weren't anticipating initially," said Mark Goodman, emergency management director in Onslow County, on North Carolina's central coast and home to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

Disaster planners are considering turning major highways into one-way evacuation routes for the roughly 1 million people who live between Savannah, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C.

Items for individuals to think about for storm preparation include non-perishable food supplies, medicines and gasoline in vehicles in case of evacuation. provides extensive storm-preparation advice in our Hurricane section under Weather.

If Hanna crosses the central portion of North Carolina, the possibility of tropical-storm-force winds would start Friday night.

“(We’ll see) how fast it’ll move once it goes up the coast,” WRAL meteorologist Mike Moss said. “Once it decides where it’s going to hit, there might not be a lot of time (to react).”

Fishel said there is “no chance” of Hanna turning into a major flooding event because it is expected to move through the state quickly.

The threat of Hanna may affect the Raleigh Wide Open downtown festival scheduled Friday and Saturday. City officials said they plan to meet Thursday morning to make a decision about the event.

A ribbon-cutting for the new downtown convention center could be moved inside, officials said, but the outdoor concerts and other events planned for the festival would have to be canceled if Hanna sweeps across the state.

"You go on until you can't go on any further," said Doug Grissom, assistant director of the convention center. "We hope we don't have to cancel."

The threat of Hanna also caused some high school football games to be moved up to Thursday.