Carolinas prepare for Joaquin

Hurricane Joaquin was upgraded Thursday to a dangerous Category 4 storm as officials across North Carolina prepared for rain and flooding, landslides in the mountains and pounding surf and strong winds along the coast.

On Thursday, Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for all 100 counties, saying the storm that’s moving up the Atlantic from the Bahamas could deliver 4 to 8 inches of rain to most of the already rain-soaked state – with a possible 10 inches in the mountains, where officials had posted landslide warnings.

“We are talking of the possibility of deadly flooding in most areas of our state,” McCrory said at a news conference. “We are ready, and we are prepared.”

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley also declared a state of emergency in her state.

By Thursday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center said the storm was showing signs of turning eastward, diminishing the potential that it would make landfall on the North Carolina coast on Sunday. It’s possible Joaquin won’t hit land until it reaches Long Island, N.Y., or southern New England, the hurricane center said.

Still, a low pressure system in the western Carolinas mingling with rain bands from Joaquin would bring a strong flow of wet air off the Atlantic into the Carolinas, forecasters said.

Landslide warnings were posted for counties in the mountains and parts of the Piedmont, where several inches of rain has fallen the past week.

In Charlotte, officials said they aren’t expecting major flooding, but expect some flooding in spots and trees falling because of the saturated ground, said Deputy Fire Chief R.O. Granger, who is Mecklenburg County’s emergency management director.

Still, the Charlotte region is under a flash flood watch that begins at 8 a.m. Friday and ends at 8 a.m. Monday. Rain in the Charlotte area will be particularly heavy east of Interstate 77 and parts of the foothills on Friday, forecasters said.

Intensifying over warm waters

Total rainfall will depend on how the hurricane interacts with that rain system stalled over the mountains and expanding eastward.

“This rain was going to occur regardless, but now we have this little hurricane that might add to the situation,” Granger said at a news conference Thursday. Two swift-water rescue teams will be on stand-by this weekend, but won’t be activated unless needed, he said.

Granger seemed more concerned about the potential for falling trees. “Trees falling on houses or at intersections,” he said. “We are really worried about that because the ground is already saturated.”

Granger said flooding could be worse than expected if heavy rains fall in short periods. But he said that the county’s rivers, streams and lakes are down because of the recent drought, and “we have a large capacity for water. Flooding is difficult to predict. It depends on how much rain falls where.”

Joaquin picked up steam Thursday as it barreled over warm ocean waters of the Bahamas. By afternoon, it had exploded in intensity and was a Category 4 storm, yet its track had begun to turn east, the hurricane center said. The center expected the storm to continue to grow, potentially developing sustained winds of 140 mph. Winds for a Category 4 storm range from 130 mph to 156 mph.

All day Thursday, the coast remained in the center’s cone of possible landfalls, but by the evening advisory, that cone merely brushed the state’s Outer Banks.

McCrory said emergency crews are set to respond wherever evacuations are needed and other storm-related crises arise. He said he is concerned Joaquin could mimic Hurricane Floyd, which killed 57 people and caused $6.9 billion in damage along the East Coast in 1999. That storm produced torrential rains and widespread flooding in Eastern North Carolina.

Taking safety seriously

Owing to Hurricane Joaquin’s anticipated arrival, two Charlotte-area football games have been rescheduled. Moved up to Thursday were games between West Charlotte at North Mecklenburg (North Meck’s homecoming was moved to Oct. 30) and Charlotte Catholic at Harding. Kick-offs for the seven other home games involving CMS schools remained at 7 p.m. Friday.

Crews with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services continued Thursday to inspect 60 sites prone to flooding. They found one “hot spot” Thursday morning with limbs and other vegetation clogging part of Four Mile Creek in the 8800 block of Providence Road, just south of Pineville-Matthews Road.

A back-hoe operator spent the morning scooping the debris into a truck.

Storm Water Services continued to urge residents to identify flood risks near their homes, report clogged storm drains (by calling 311) and map evacuation routes.

The agency’s officials will keep a watch on detection equipment that sounds alerts if water rises to flood levels in streams at 13 sites across the county with a history of flooding.

At Thursday’s news conference, officials continued to urge residents to be vigilant about safety.

Jeff Estes, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police deputy chief, implored drivers not to drive through standing water, and parents to keep children away from flooded areas.

“Don’t allow them to take a raft down a swollen creek because situations can turn dangerous very, very quickly,” Estes said. “Slow down. You can’t drive at normal speeds when there’s standing water on roadways. If you see a downed power line, call 911. Don’t touch it. Make sure you keep your children away from it.

“Flooding is dangerous.”

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061; Twitter: @dperlmutt

Flood safety

▪ Never drive through floodwater. Turn around.

▪ Don’t walk or play in floodwater. Six inches of moving water can sweep people off their feet.

▪ Flooded streets, creeks and streams are unpredictable. The water may be deeper or moving faster than it appears and may quickly rise without warning.

▪ Do not drive around a barricade. It’s there for your protection.

▪ Heavy rain can cause any low-lying area to flood, even it it’s not near a creek or in a floodplain.

▪ Report dangerous flooding to 911 and clogged storm drains to 311.

▪ Stock a kit with water, flashlights with batteries, first aid kit, prescription medicines, copies of bank account and credit card information and a list of emergency numbers at home and in your car.

More info: charmeck.org.

Source: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, CMPD

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