Another Isabel? Area braces for Irene

Published 6:45 pm Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene approaches.

Click on the image to see the latest track for Irene.

FRANKLIN—Rapidly approaching Hurricane Irene bears a strong resemblance to a storm that battered Western Tidewater eight years ago, emergency officials say.

Irene, which is expected to roar ashore Saturday on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, will produce wind that could match the destructive force of Hurricane Isabel in September 2003. Western Tidewater could see sustained winds between 40 mph and 50 mph as the system passes.

But unlike Hurricane Floyd in September 1999, Irene is not expected to cause river flooding.

Flooding during Floyd was attributed in large part to Hurricane Dennis, which came through the area about two weeks earlier and saturated the watershed shortly before Floyd made landfall, said Mike Johnson, Southampton County administrator and director of the county’s Emergency Management Agency.

“This will be more of a wind event,” Johnson said.

While between 2 inches and 6 inches of rain is expected with the system, both the Nottoway River and the Blackwater River are currently low, making river flooding unlikely.

The Nottoway was at 3.7 feet at Sebrell on Thursday afternoon. Flood stage is 16 feet. The Blackwater was at 2.3 feet at Burdette with a flood stage of 12 feet.

Johnson said flash flooding, downed trees and limbs, and flying debris are all possible during Irene.

“If it’s anything like Isabel, it’s all of the above,” Johnson said.

Wind and rainfall will likely be somewhere between Isabel and Floyd, said Franklin Fire Capt. Tim Dunn. He expects less rainfall than during Isabel but stronger winds than Floyd.

Dunn warned that a shift in the storm’s track could result in higher or lower rainfall totals.

“It’s something we need to be concerned about and watch, but it doesn’t seem like it will be the worst thing we’ve seen,” Dunn said. “We’re still ramping up for the worst and will plan for that, but we are hoping for the best.”

Windsor Police Chief Vic Reynolds said the department would be at full staff starting at 8 a.m. tomorrow through the duration of the event.

Reynolds said loss of power and communication is likely and suggests residents prepare for anywhere between two to four days without power, just in case.

Both Reynolds and Johnson said emergency personnel would be unable to assist residents during times when sustained winds reach tropical storm force, but Reynolds said that would be determined on a situational basis.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency Thursday and authorized localities to order mandatory evacuations if the locality deems it necessary. The National Weather Service late Thursday afternoon put the Virginia coast under a hurricane watch, while upgrading from a watch to a hurricane warning a strip of coastline from north of Surf City, N.C. to the Virginia border.

Franklin High School has been designated as a shelter, but it has not been activated yet, according to Gail Wade, Franklin City Public Schools’ human resources director. Johnson said Southampton High School could be used as a shelter if needed, but the county will make that determination today.

Western Tidewater residents are urged by emergency personnel to prepare hurricane kits. Many residents had already decided to heed this advice as grocery stores were crowded Thursday with shoppers stocking up on essentials like bread and bottled water.

Janet Carrico of Boykins was one of those shoppers. She was at Food Lion in Franklin buying batteries, non-perishable food items and other essentials.

“I’ll probably have a grandchild staying with me, so I’m going to get whatever he wants,” Carrico said.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management suggests the following items be included in a hurricane kit:

• At least three gallons of water per person for drinking and sanitation

• Three-day supply of food that does not need electricity for storage or preparation

• Manual can opener

• Battery powered or hand-crank radio with weather band and extra batteries

• Written emergency plan

• Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

• Flashlight and extra batteries

• First-aid kit

• Whistle to signal for help

• Prescription medications and eyewear

• Sanitation supplies