Weather models Tuesday evening still showed strong possibilities that Hurricane Florence could cause substantial damage across the state, and that has local residents and officials getting into gear.
More than just saying a prayer for neighbors to the east, Surry County residents are coming to realize this could be the first hurricane to wreak havoc here since Hugo in 1989.
Workers continue to prep, while officials plan for the worst-case scenarios. Meanwhile regular citizens are hitting local grocery stores looking for ready-to-eat foods and beverages.
While winter snowstorms may cause a run on milk, fear of power outages has steered shoppers away from the dairy product and toward bottled water, from the looks of local shelves.
John Shelton, emergency services director, said on Monday workers were testing generators and maintenance chainsaws.
On Tuesday, Jeff Boyles, public works director, said his crews were doing what they could to accommodate the heavy rains expected.
The city has a street sweeper that cleans up debris along Main Street after the Autumn Leaves Festival.
Boyles said the sweeper has been out cleaning as many streets as possible. Any trash or dead leaves in the roadway could be washed into culverts and storm drains, leading to blockages.
“We are making sure the culverts are as clean as they can be,” said Boyles. The sewer grates were cleaned off, as well. That allows the sewer pipes to convey as much water as possible, rather than let it back up and create pools.
When talking about flood-control work along Lovills Creek, engineers threw out the phrase “100-year storm” to say that not only does work have to handle everyday storms, but it has to stand up to the worst event the area has seen in the past century.
Boyles said every year there is a 1-percent chance that the area could see a storm of such magnitude, or worse, and street drainage systems aren’t designed to handle that capacity.
In the midst of a powerful thunderstorm, water can flood a street and overflow a curb because of the sudden intensity, said Boyles. Luckily, those types of storms don’t last long.
In this case, however, some weather reports said Tuesday night that there is a chance that Florence strengthens from a category 4 to category 5 on Thursday before making landfall. A hurricane that powerful could cross into the center of the state and dump a dozen inches or more of rain across a swath of multiple counties.
There is still no way to know how much rain Surry County will get, Shelton said Tuesday evening. Likely, this area will get 3 inches to 5 inches no matter which way the storm turns, but it could be much more if Florence decides to sit in place over the state.
The intensity might not be as high as during a severe thunderstorm, but the event could last longer with a strong, steady downpour that does as much damage, but over a longer time, according to Boyles.
Low areas along creeks are susceptible to flooding, noted Boyles.
“Be cautious in heavy rain and do not cross water in heavy rain,” said Shelton. “It doesn’t take much to wash a car away.”
At the end of July, a section of Sparger Road collapsed due to water erosion around a double runoff pipe under the roadway.
Shelton said that problem has now been fixed with a bigger pipe diameter to handle the runoff. However, other roads could suffer a similar problem, which could be dangerous if pooling water hides the missing asphalt, or if the road washes away at night when visibility is poor.
“We’re making sure we’ve got people available for swift water rescues and things like that in conjunction with area rescue squads,” Shelton said.
Shelton said he would be meeting with other emergency officials today to talk over all the possibilities that could come up this week.
He is expecting to send four workers to a statewide staging area in Butner to offer assistance. If people have to be evacuated from their homes, every county needs somewhere for people to go. Shelton said Surry Community College is the standby emergency shelter for this county.
To the north, the Carroll News is reporting that the Grover King VFW Post 1115 in Hillsville, Virginia, is being set up as an evacuation center.
Hillsville Mayor Greg Crowder said Hillsville Pentecostal Holiness Church and Galax Pentecostal Holiness Church have stepped forward to volunteer their locations as a possible shelter for people impacted by damage or those who simply need storm protection.
Some of the grants Surry County has received to buy emergency equipment — such as generators, portable lights, traffic warning lights, etc. — means that the goods are considered a state resource, explained Shelton. If Surry gets lucky and isn’t one of the counties impacted badly by the storm, then those resources can be transported to neighboring counties to assist their emergency personnel.
At some point, the county will have done all it can to prepare, then it just has to wait to see what the hurricane does.
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.