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Emergency officials urge preparedness

After last year’s one-two punch of Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew, along with a series of lesser but damaging storms, Whiteville officials are urging residents to plan ahead as this year’s hurricane season kicks into gear.

Three systems were active in the Atlantic Ocean last week, according to the National Weather Service. While Tropical Storm Emily was never a threat to land, the other two storms – which hadn’t organized enough to be named at press time showed potential for development.

Whiteville Fire Marshal Hal Lowder said one lesson he hopes people learned last year was to be prepared for one to three days on your own.
“If there is an emergency during a storm, first responders will do all they can to help,” he said, “but many of those emergencies can be avoided if people will plan ahead.”

The Red Cross encourages every family to have food, water, cash and medical supplies for three days. Lowder said five days is even better. “Look at Matthew,” he said. “We were without power in some areas of town for five days, in some cases more.”

One crisis that stood out in the storm and resultant flooding was a need for oxygen, Lowder said.“I do not know how many calls we had from folks who rely on oxygen generators, but had no power,” he said. “We had people turning up at the shelter without their tanks, and we had to scramble to find enough. That’s not standard shelter equipment.”Nebulizers and oxygen generators need power to operate, Lowder said. “You need to evaluate your needs, and plan accordingly,” he said. “For some people, it really makes sense to evacuate somewhere inland, where you have family who will still have power.”

Sightseeing was a major danger after the hurricanes and the supercell thunderstorm that flooded the city prior to the tropical storms. Flooded roads often conceal hidden dangers to drivers, Lowder said.

“It really doesn’t take much moving water to float your car off the road,” he said. “Look at all the cars and trucks we had in ditches, canals and the swamps after the flooding. Places you drive every day in the city had three feet of fast-moving water over them. That will ruin a car, as well as end it downstream.”

The city saw dozens of water rescues in all three of the major flood events last year, and many could have been avoided, Lowder said.

Some homes and businesses were damaged by wakes caused by vehicles moving down streets last year. Even a few inches of water on a street has a ripple effect, and multiple wakes can tear ductwork, insulation and even structural work from under some buildings and homes.

Lowder said the best thing anyone can do if they decide to ride out the storm is to be prepared, and remain at home.

“Everybody wants to see what’s happening, but it’s really very dangerous,” he said. “If you get overtaken by the water, you’re putting your life and the lives of others in danger. It’s not a smart move. Just stay home.”

Lowder said hurricanes are far easier to prepare for than other storms, “since we have some time to plan.

“Make sure you have what your family needs in case the power and water go out,” he said. “Stock up on enough bottled water and food to stay comfortable. Buy your batteries now, not when the stores are seeing long lines. Make sure you fill your prescriptions well in advance. I know finances can be a problem with some folks, but everybody can prepare to some extent.”



Stuart Rogers