As the outer bands of Hurricane Irma swept through North Carolina, taking the usual intense-weather toll in Surry with trees being felled and threatening power lines, perhaps the biggest casualty locally was the county fair.
A forecast of high winds in the area prompted the 70th-annual Surry County Agricultural Fair to be shut down early, reducing by one day what was already a short five-day schedule from last Thursday through Monday. Sunday ended up being its last day.
“We had to go with safety first, with a high-wind advisory,” fair official Katherine Thorpe explained Tuesday morning.
“They started taking it down Sunday night,” Thorpe said of the company providing the rides and games, Powers and Thomas Midway Entertainment. “The fair has moved on to Salisbury.” That was the provider’s next stop for the Rowan County Fair.
Eliminating a Monday from the fair schedule normally wouldn’t represent a major loss, but will cause a big financial hit this year for the local veterans groups that stage the event.
“We didn’t get to have our Carload Day, which would have been our biggest day,” Thorpe said of a period each year during the local fair when a vehicle full of people can pay a special price for admission and rides, which was planned for Monday.
Thorpe estimates a resulting financial loss of about $15,000. “That hurt us pretty bad.”
Such proceeds from the fair are used by the veterans groups to fund a variety of community programs in addition to underwriting events held at the park on West Lebanon Street and upkeep of buildings and grounds there.
However, Thorpe pointed out that the lost attendance dollars from Monday’s cancellation pale in comparison to the potential loss of human life or injuries that might have resulted had the final fair day went on as scheduled.
She also said the event was otherwise successful.
“Well, we did pretty good on the days before,” Thorpe said of Thursday through Sunday.
“Right now, we haven’t gotten that total,” she said Tuesday of final figures, but attendance was healthy for those days overall. “And the animal shows went really well.”
Surry was “lucky”
While the remnants of Irma lashed North Carolina — especially in mountainous areas, where a combination of gusty winds and heavy rain overnight Monday led to widespread power outages — Surry County largely escaped the situation unscathed.
“I think we got very lucky with this storm,” Surry Emergency Services Director John Shelton said Tuesday, quickly mentioning that this could change with continuing rain showers forecast the rest of the day.
“So far we haven’t had any structural damage or power outages referred to us at all,” Shelton said late in the morning. Meanwhile, power outages affected tens of thousands of homes and businesses in North Carolina, mostly in the mountains, according to the state emergency management agency.
Irma’s effects in Surry mainly have produced downed trees and water on some roadways.
“Most of what we’ve dealt with is trees — it’s just been in various locations and we’re continuing to get that today,” Shelton said. “The ground is really soft with all this rain.”
After the wind got up Monday night, local residents woke up to trees down in some locations Tuesday.
“We’ve still got a lot of rain to go through today,” Shelton said Tuesday in expressing concern for possible surface flooding in areas of the county.
Gov. Roy Cooper reported Tuesday morning that about 74,000 customers were without electricity in North Carolina, saying most of the outages were in western North Carolina and in the Charlotte area, according to The Associated Press.
Cooper said there was no significant flooding as the remnants of the storm moved across the state, and that emergency management officials were demobilizing swift water rescue teams.
Some debris and downed trees were blocking roads in the mountains, the governor said, and workers were getting those reopened.
Wind gusts of nearly 50 mph were reported.
The Blue Ridge Parkway closed Monday afternoon because of high winds.
Prepared for worst
Shelton said Hurricane Irma’s impact thankfully proved to be much less than expected, but that officials here and North Carolina as a whole were prepared for the worst.
That included preparations for providing an emergency shelter in Surry County for evacuees making their way north to escape Florida.
Plans called for Surry Community College to serve as a standby shelter for one in Greensboro if the need could not be met there.
It was prepared to house a maximum of 500 evacuees as a Tier 2 shelter, as distinguished from the Tier 1 facility in Greensboro in a higher-traffic area.
Though the Dobson site did not have to be pressed into service, Shelton said the standby plan required much coordination among local individuals and organizations. These included SCC President Dr. David Shockley, the campus security unit, the Surry Sheriff’s Department, the Surry County Department of Social Services and Surry County Health and Nutrition Center.
The emergency services director said he was impressed by how everyone came together on that effort.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.