Haywood braces for flooding, mudslides as heavy rain sets in
Haywood County convened an emergency joint conference Friday to ensure response readiness in the event of flooding or mudslides triggered by the heavy rain expected over the next three days.
More than two dozen stake holders participated in the joint meeting, some phoning in via conference call from their respective locations around the county.
“You don’t react to these things. You need to plan them and make sure all our emergency management agencies are cohesively organized,” said Commissioner Chairman Mark Swanger.
The community as a whole is jumpy about the impending rainfall.
“We are preparing for the worst, hoping for the best,” said Joey Webb, Waynesville Fire Chief.
The tragic floods of 2004, when the Pigeon River swamped the towns of Canton and Clyde, are still fresh in the collective memory of the county, casting a cloud of both fear and urgency heading into the three-day heavy rain event.
“How many inches of rain will be devastating for us? I am concerned about the moisture coming up over those mountains,” Commissioner Bill Upton said at the joint meeting.
Despite the daunting prospect of 10 inches of rain this weekend, it’s only half the amount seen in 2004, and will be spread out over twice as long.
In 2004, 20 inches of rain fell in just 19 hours, Swanger said.
However, ell eyes are on the localized rainfall level in the Pigeon River headwaters, the steep escarpment rising from above Bethel and Cruso.
“It is not the cumulative rainfall we are concerned about but the bursts of rain we could get intermittently that could cause those flash flood and debris flows,” said Greg Shuping, the county’s emergency management director.
Shuping will be monitoring radar constantly for heavy bands of rain.
“When we see those bands come through that’s what we really want to be aware of,” Shuping said.
Shuping asked the volunteer fire departments and rescue agencies to send a roster of the all the volunteers and staff who will be working or on stand-by over the next 48 hours to the 911 communications center.
“We recommend extra staffing of those emergency agencies in the event of flooding. All swift water teams should be on stand-by,” Shuping said.
Haywood Regional Medical Center’s conference representative reported that the hospital has been staffed up to ensure it could handle a swell in patients if necessary.
The county’s EMS operations will put it’s entire ambulance feet on call starting this evening, said EMS Director Jim Pressley.
N.C. Governor Pat McCrory has already declared a state of emergency for all 100 counties.
The declaration automatically triggered the enactment of Haywood County’s emergency response procedures and plans as well.
“The intent of that is to allow the governor the latitude to move the resources of state agencies on an as needed basis,” Shuping said.
Canton Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss inquired about the current storage capacity of Lake Logan. If there is a cloud burst in the Pigeon headwaters, the water level of Lake Logan is critically important.
Ideally, water levels at Lake Logan would have been lowered over the past two days, so it could then act as a buffer to hold back water.
But if Lake Logan is already full going into the heavy rains, it’s of no use in holding back flood water.
The paper mill in Canton controls the Lake Logan dam.
“Can someone from Evergreen Packaging please give us an update on the status of the draw down of Lake Logan,” Hendler-Voss asked over the conference call.
The Evergreen representative on the conference call said they didn’t know and would try to find out and get back to him.
During the floods of 2004, washed out bridges and flooded roads trapped people in their homes and neighborhoods, unable to get out until water subsided. Shuping advised people who depend on oxygen or medication to make sure they have what they need. He said the community network of volunteer fire fighters are also able to reach out to older or disabled people.
“Fire departments know where those vulnerable people live,” Shuping said.
The joint pre-storm briefing began with a roll call of the all the agencies and parties considered stakeholders in the emergency response plan, lasting a few minutes due to the large number. It includes the obvious police departments, volunteer fire departments, dispatch units and search and rescue teams.
But even those agencies not directly associated with emergency response — such as Haywood County Schools and Haywood Community College — were present for the joint briefing Friday.
“I would like to thank everyone for participating,” Swanger said.
Shuping also prepared a fact sheet for residents that offers tips and preparedness advice.
“Just two feet of water can float a 3,000 pound car. Be extra cautious at night because it is hard to see those flood hazards,” Shuping said.