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Preps begin for ‘potentially deadly event’

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

Hurricane Florence is still days from landfall, but local emergency officials are so concerned about it’s deadly potential inland they’re already preparing for a worst-case scenario.

“This is a potentially deadly event,” Pulaski County Emergency Management Director Josh Tolbert told The Southwest Times Monday afternoon. He and some 40 others attending a called meeting at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) could not stress enough the importance of citizens preparing now for what could be a very dangerous situation later this week.

Tolbert said the remnants of Florence have the potential to inundate an already saturated ground with so much rain a 100-year flood is possible. While winds might be a problem, the rain potential predicted by some storm tracking models Monday could put Florence in a league with Hurricane Camille in 1969, he said.

Camille is the second-most intense hurricane to ever strike the United States. It made landfall in Mississippi Aug. 18, 1969, as a Category 5 hurricane. Its track took it into Virginia a day later, squeezing out enough moisture along the Appalachian Mountains to cause flooding and landslides that killed 153 people unprepared for such an onslaught. One percent of Nelson County’s population at the time died from blunt-force trauma sustained in landslides.

Camille produced 12 to 27 inches of rain, mostly over a 3-5 hour period in Virginia. Tolbert said at least one model for Florence Monday was forecasting 20 or more inches in Pulaski County. “I can’t fathom that,” he said.

Both Tolbert and a VDOT representative said during Monday’s meeting they have never seen a forecast with such deadly potential in this area. Unfortunately, additional rainfall is expected before the storm even arrives.

“There is nothing more urgent or important in the county right now. This forecast has incredible potential” for danger, he told those attending the meeting.

In attendance were representatives of Pulaski County, the towns of Pulaski and Dublin, the local school system, Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, Pulaski Police Department, county fire and emergency medical services, county social services, Virginia Department of Transportation and American Electric Power.

Tolbert said the EOC is officially opening this morning to keep track of state emergency operations forecasts and begin to put plans into action in the event the forecast doesn’t improve. Tolbert expects it will be Wednesday before forecasters have a more precise gauge of the storm’s track and intensity inland.

But, that’s too late to begin preparations.

“We’re advising folks to consider now what kind of supplies they would need should they be out of power for one, two, even three days. What do they need to sustain them?” Pulaski County Board of Supervisors Chairman Andy McCready said Monday morning. The Draper Fire Department member said making sure medications, especially critical ones, are readily available should be part of the plan.

If high winds combine with flooding and already saturated soil, downed trees could make it difficult, if not impossible, for emergency services to reach people to lend assistance.

The impact of Florence is expected to be so widespread in Virginia and North Carolina, McCready said it is going to fall upon local government and its citizens to take care of themselves until state and federal assistance is available.

“We are the Calvary. That’s how we need to look at this,” McCready told those in attendance at the afternoon meeting. He said it will be incumbent upon the agencies present to address issues that arise during and immediately following the storm.

McCready advises residents to also make sure their property is secured in the event of high winds and flooding. “One thing we have problems with during floods is propane tanks floating away,” he said. “Please secure propane tanks and home heating oil tanks away from any potential floodwaters. Even though you rarely see rainwater in a ditch, plan now that you will see it.”

If a 100-year flood develops, much of downtown Pulaski would be underwater. As such, town and county officials were reviewing the buildings Monday, determining what equipment and records are in danger and need to be moved to higher ground. Tolbert said discussions also were being had about where to relocate operations should buildings have to be abandoned due to flooding.

Even though the EOC is slightly outside the predicted 100-year flood plain, Tolbert said it could be moved to Dublin Fire Department if necessary.

According to discussion at the called meeting, some people in flood-prone areas already were calling the 911 Communications Center Monday to ask about the school schedule for later in the week. Although a decision hasn’t been made regarding schools, officials were encouraged some people are already preparing to evacuate, if necessary.

McCready’s advice to citizens living in low-lying areas is to “make plans now to be ready to move. Try not to put yourself in a situation where you have to be rescued by boat.”

VDOT and county officials were already inspecting around bridges and culverts Monday to make sure debris is removed in hopes of preventing blockages. Even with those efforts, the VDOT official said the amount of rain predicted could easily result in blockages.

Generators were being inspected and tested in the event of power outages and fuel tanks were being topped off, giving the county 76,000 gallons of available diesel and gasoline for use.

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