County officials prepare for Hurricane Ivan

By Abby Morris-Frye
star staff
amorris@starhq.com

  Local officials are preparing for the worst but hoping for the best as the remnants of Hurricane Ivan move into the Northeast Tennessee area.
  Ivan hit land around 2 a.m. on Thursday, just east of Mobile Bay, Ala., as a Category 3 hurricane but it was downgraded to a Tropical Storm later in the day on Thursday.
  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the outer rain bands of Ivan began stretching into Eastern Tennessee by the early afternoon hours on Thursday.
  As meteorologists predict the path of the storm crossing over the region, Elizabethton/Carter County Emergency Management Agency officials as well as the local chapter of the American Red Cross, the Carter County 911 Communications Center, the Carter County Highway Department and the Carter County Rescue Squad are making sure plans are in place in the event that Carter County experiences the heavy rainfall that is predicted.
  "It could be a bad situation again for Carter County as far as flooding," said Ernest Jackson, EMA director. Jackson was reinstated to his position as director following an investigation into a terrorist drill that took place during the Aug. 2 meeting of the Carter County Commission. Thursday was his first day back on the job and Jackson was busy meeting with various agencies to prepare for the possibility of flooding.
  Jackson said he will be keeping a watchful eye on the Doe River as rain falls in the area. "That's our major concern considering the 1998 flood, is along the Doe River," he said, adding that residents of the county who live near any water, not just the Doe River, need to be watchful as well. "Be cautious. If you live near a creek or stream, just be ready for a possible evacuation at any given time with all this rain, depending on how fast this rain falls and so forth. They (residents) just need to be ready and know what to look for. Keep prepared and ready."
  Jackson said that the Swift Water Rescue Team of the Carter County Rescue Squad has been put on standby for potential activation if flooding occurs in the county.
  Bridget Hurt, coordinator of the Carter County office of the American Red Cross, said the Red Cross is also preparing to serve the needs of residents in the event of a flood. "We do have sites that we can open up as shelters," she said, adding that announcements will be made about the location of the shelters once the need arises for them to open.
  The American Red Cross advises residents to prepare an evacuation kit in advance and to have it handy in the event that they are forced to leave their homes to seek shelter. The kit should include first aid supplies, essential medications, canned food, a manual can opener, at least three gallons of water per person, protective clothing, bedding or sleeping bags, battery powered flashlights and radio, extra batteries as well as any special items needed for infants or elderly or disabled family members. The Red Cross also advises residents to move furniture or valuables to higher floors of their home if possible and to make sure they have a full tank of gas in their vehicle.
  "They also need to make preparations for their pets," Hurt said. "A lot of people do not realize that pets are not allowed in the shelters."
  Glenna Morton, of the Carter County 911 Communications Center, said on Thursday the center has dispatchers who will be on call through Saturday. In the event that major flooding occurs, those dispatchers will be able to come into the 911 Center to help handle additional calls that will come in.
  The National Weather Service has issued weather advisories for the Northeast Tennessee region for flooding and high winds. "The greatest threat from the remnants of Ivan for the local area will be flooding of rivers and streams due to the long duration and widespread nature of the rainfall. This event has the potential to become a very dangerous and significant flooding situation," states the weather advisory.
  The NWS also issued a "High Wind Warning" for Eastern Tennessee which began at 6 p.m. Thursday and will remain in affect until 4 p.m. today. "Across the valleys of East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, southeast winds will increase to 20-to-30 mph (miles per hour) with gusts to 40 mph tonight (Thursday), then diminish to 10-to-20 mph and gusty during the afternoon Friday," states the advisory. "Residents across the region should be alert to the possibility of downed trees and power lines, especially across the higher terrain. Any loose outside objects will need to be brought indoors or tied down. When traveling be prepared for sudden strong gusts of wind, especially those driving high profile vehicles such as semi-trucks."
  According to the NWS, flooding is the number one cause of weather related deaths and most flood fatalities occur at night and in vehicles.
  The NWS is also predicting that the Nolichucky River will again overflow its banks. Just over a week ago, as the remnants of Hurricane Frances moved through the area, the Nolichucky raged well above flood stages, destroying roads throughout Unicoi and Greene Counties. "Minor flooding is forecast with a maximum stage of 12.0 feet at about 8 p.m. Friday, which is equal to the flood stage. The river is expected to rise above the flood stage of 12.0 feet at about 8 p.m. on Friday," states an advisory from the NWS.
  The United States Geological Survey is also alerting residents to the possibility of landslides as a result of rainfall from Tropical Storm Ivan. The USGS alerted state and federal agencies Thursday to the increased potential for landslides in the mountainous regions of several states including Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia due to anticipated heavy rainfall. "Given the wet soil conditions we already have in many of these areas, the risk of numerous, fast-moving landslides is significant," said Gerry Wieczoreck, USGS landslide specialist. "Residents in landslide-prone areas and anyone in mountainous areas should be aware of the warning signs and be prepared to move quickly. Intense rains have triggered landslides in the area before.
  During the inland passage of Hurricane Frances through mountainous western North Carolina, many areas received between 10 and 16 inches of rainfall over a 24 hour period, which triggered more than 20 isolated landslides that blocked highways and damaged or destroyed homes. At least one portion of Interstate 40 between Asheville, N.C. and Knoxville was closed due to a landslide.