Local officials urge citizens to heed evacuation notice

By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com

  As Hurricane Ivan churns through the South towards Tennessee, local public safety officials say they want Carter County citizens to take evacuation orders seriously in order to avoid a potentially deadly situation similar to the county's 1998 flooding.
  "They need to know when an officer comes by, we are warning them flood waters are coming and they need to leave immediately and not argue about it," said Sheriff John Henson who stressed that citizens must heed evacuation warnings without waiting.
  "We may not be able to get back to them again," Henson said.
  Carter County and Elizabethton government officials met Thursday afternoon to coordinate logistics for response to potential flooding from Hurricane Ivan. The National Weather Service has forecast between 5 and 15 inches of rainfall could cause severe flooding in Southern Appalachia particularly in the regions of western North Carolina and East Tennessee.
  Some county residents prolonged leaving their homes during the deadly county flooding in January 1998 that killed seven people.
  Henson and Carter County EMS Director Terry Arnold said public safety officials would warn, plead with, and even transport citizens to emergency shelters if flooding became severe to avoid loss of life. Arnold added that if citizens refuse to comply with the initial evacuation request, there would be little his agency could do if flooding reaches dangerous levels.
  "I've already told my people we are not going to get anyone in harm's way," Arnold said. "If they won't listen to us, they are on their own."
  Glenda Bobalik with the Greater Kingsport Chapter of the American Red Cross said the agency had agreements with local facilities serving as emergency shelters for persons displaced by the rainfall. She said Red Cross volunteers were essentially on hold until they know what Ivan has in store for the region.
  "Until we see what is going to happen we can't see where we are going to need a shelter," said Bobalik.
  Flash flooding can occur within a few days or a few hours. A flash flood watch means flash flooding is possible soon in your area.
  The American Red Cross urges citizens to take the following safety precautions when a flood warning is issued:
  * Listen to local radio and TV stations for information and advice. If told to evacuate, do so as soon as possible.
  * Be alert to signs of flash flooding and be ready to evacuate on a moment's notice.
  * If you think flooding has already started, evacuate immediately. You may have only seconds to escape. Act quickly!
  * Move to higher ground away from rivers, streams, creeks, and storm drains. Do not drive around barricades ... they are there for your safety.
  * If your car stalls in rapidly rising waters, abandon it immediately and climb to higher ground.