Emergency officials leave nothing to chance

Published 4:14 pm Sunday, September 7, 2008

FRANKLIN—Even as its approach toward land sapped Tropical Storm Hanna of some of its expected strength, area officials involved in emergency planning were taking no chances Friday.

Local states of emergency were declared in the City of Franklin, as well as Southampton and Isle of Wight counties and even the town of Windsor, and the two counties opened shelters at 8 p.m. Friday, just in case.

Isle of Wight’s new alert system got a workout, as Emergency Management Coordinator Rusty Chase sent out at least five public updates between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Each of the municipalities participated in last-minute assessments, both locally and with the National Weather Service, and employees of government agencies and private companies throughout the area scrambled to make sure that chain saws worked and generators were fueled before the storm hit.

There were reports that International Paper had ordered computers to be protected and moved to higher ground, just in case the plant flooded.

Hanna had been expected to stengthen into a weak hurricane before making landfall near the border of North Carolina and South Carolina early Saturday morning. But wind speeds had not increased beyond 70 mph by the time it reached coastal waters Friday evening, and the National Weather Service was no longer certain it would increase in strength to a hurricane.

Nonetheless, tropical storm warnings were issued for the portion of Virginia east of Interstate 95, and emergency officials at all levels of government were warning citizens to be ready for gusty winds, heavy rains and flash floods.

River flooding, at least, was not a concern locally, since both the Blackwater and the Nottoway rivers were at extremely low levels and the storm’s fast movement meant it would not continually dump rain on the area for a long period of time.

“We can handle the rain,” Franklin Fire Chief Vince Holt said Friday morning. “I think there’s going to be some windy conditions, but nothing like Isabel.”

Both Isle of Wight and Southampton opened high schools in Courtland and Windsor for use as shelters, and they ordered their solid waste collection stations closed for the day Saturday. All of those centers in both counties were to be back on their regular schedules at 7 a.m. on Sunday.