First Posted: 1/15/2009
Staff and wire report
While western North Carolina awaits Hurricane Ivan's expected battering of heavy rain, strong winds and possible tornadoes, Robeson County should be spared a major soaking. But the good luck might not last: Forecasters say Hurricane Jeanne has the potential to bring heavy rains to the region next week.
Tom Kines, a forecaster for AccuWeather at Penn State College, said most of Robeson County will receive only an inch or two of rain from Ivan over the next few days, with some isolated areas of the county getting upward of 3 inches.
But his forecast for the mountains of North Carolina is ominous, and he said Hurricane Jeanne, which struck Puerto Rico today with 80 mph winds, might bring torrential rains to state.
“The mountains will probably get a foot or more of rain from Ivan,” Kines said. “And there are two schools of thought on Jeanne - that it could either sweep across south Florida into the Gulf of Mexico or go northward into the Carolinas. If that happens, Robeson County could be in for some heavy rain by Thursday or Friday.”
In the Appalachians, forecasters said Ivan could begin dropping up to 15 inches of rain today and increase Friday and Saturday. The National Weather Service issued a flood watch Wednesday for 28 counties in the Piedmont and mountains. Some of those counties suffered heavy flooding last week from the remnants of Hurricane Frances.
The heavy rain also could trigger mud and rock slides.
The threat has residents snatching up full-size camp stoves and candles as quickly as they're loading up milk and bread. Officials are urging people to have enough water, food, medications, cash, sanitation supplies and other necessities on hand to last three days.
“We're out of lanterns, we're out of water purification tablets,” said John Thompson, assistant manager of Black Dome Mountain Sports in Asheville. “We've had a pretty good run on stuff. People who didn't prepare for the last storm are preparing for this one.”
Local, state and federal emergency agencies and power companies are requesting additional workers, and the governor has ordered National Guard soldiers and swift water rescuers on alert. The American Red Cross has food vehicles on standby and cots set up in some shelters.
Department of Transportation crews are clearing debris from around bridges and culverts, allowing water to flow and preventing structural damage.
Detention officials also have plans ready should some of the region's smaller jails flood.
Haywood County, which saw widespread flooding, is preparing to face Ivan with plans to have at least 5,000 sandbags on hand for governmental agencies.
Officials at the National Park Service said they would close as a precaution more sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway in advance of the storm Thursday evening. Frances washed out sections of the scenic road and caused at least $11 million in damage. Parkway campgrounds in North Carolina also will close Thursday.
Western Carolina University canceled classes in all locations for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
As Hurricane Ivan began lashing the Gulf Coast late Wednesday, preparations continued in the Hickory region for major flooding.
“We're planning for the worst-case scenario and hoping for the best-case scenario, which would be a slow rain over four days,” said David Weldon, Catawba County emergency management director.
Flooding is expected in low-lying areas and in flood plains around lakes, Weldon said. Streams and rivers are also expected to swell over their banks.
“Where it stalls will have a major impact on where the extreme flooding will occur,” said Tim Miller, branch manager of the North Carolina Emergency Management office.
In Gaston County, high schools moved games up from Friday to Thursday night to avoid rainouts, while other events - such as Lincoln County's annual Apple Festival - canceled.
Gaston County is under a flood watch until Sunday.
“As good as science is now we still have a lot of unknowns,” said Jim Pharr, director of the Gaston Emergency Management Agency. “Science is telling us we're going to have some problems, we just don't know the extent.”