Florence evacuation and re-entry dominate Dare BOC meeting

By on September 17, 2018

N.C. 12 on Hatteras Island last week. (Brett Barley)

Monday’s Dare County Board of Commissioners meeting, the first since the mandatory evacuation and subsequent re-entry caused by Hurricane Florence, stood in marked contrast to post-storm meetings in the past.

Often, attending a meeting after an evacuation was akin to the experience of a spectator at the ancient Roman Coliseum where the lions preyed on human opponents.

Invariably, no matter what course of action county officials took, a queue of angry people lined up during public comments to accuse the decisionmakers of evacuating residents and visitors too early or too late.

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Re-entry wasn’t much better as the same angry folks reasoned that residents and tourists were kept out too long, and in the case of visitors in the aftermath of damaging storms, allowed back in too early.

But Monday night’s meeting served as a good indicator that most Dare County residents, property owners and business interests seemed to be satisfied with the decisions of the Dare County Control Group.

The sole speaker during public comments addressing the hurricane. Carolyn Self, representing the Greater Albemarle Area of the American Red Cross, praised Drew Pearson, the county’s Emergency Management Director, for reaching out to the Red Cross to station supplies, cots, and other materials in advance of the storm.

Board Chairman Bob Woodard opened the meeting with a lengthy review of the actions taken by the Control Group leading up to the evacuation orders and ending with the return of visitors to all of Dare on Sunday.

Woodard revealed information not previously known to the public and helped put into perspective why the Control Group took the actions they did relative to both the evacuation and re-entry.

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The Control Group is led by the chair of the county Board of Commissioners, and composed of the mayors of the six Dare municipalities, the sheriff and National Parks of Eastern N.C. superintendent.

The county manager and Emergency Management director coordinate the meetings, provide information and answer questions.

Woodard indicated that the group met several times before and during the potential arrival of Florence. He emphasized two major points: The decisions of the group relied heavily on information and advice provided by the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center. Right up until Friday, the NWS was advising Dare County the threat of a direct hit was real, and that storm surge in several hotspots from Kitty Hawk to Pea Island, Rodanthe, Avon, Buxton, and Hatteras were almost a certainty.

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The NWS was also predicting epic rains that would far exceed those of Hurricane Matthew as well as winds never before experienced along the Outer Banks in modern times.

Even if the storm made landfall to our south, the NWS told the group that Dare was likely to be in the storm’s northeast quadrant, where the wind speeds are highest and last longer.

There was also a growing sense by mid-week that wherever the storm made landfall, it would move so slowly as to cause even more damage by pounding the coast for two or more days.

Woodard said the NWS provided 20 to 30-minute updates via phone to the Control Group, and that the interaction between the two entities was well-coordinated and revolved around the facts as the NWS saw them at the time.

Even as late as Friday, when the storm track turned south, Woodard said the NWS was still unwilling to lift the hurricane warning for Dare. In addition, the weather service was maintaining its expectation of a severe storm surge on Hatteras and as far north at Kitty Hawk, damaging winds across the entire county and soundside flooding.

The NWS also warned of tornados.

Even as the decision was made to allow re-entry later Friday while the hurricane and tornado warnings were still in effect, the Control Group had to wait for wave action to settle down before NCDOT engineers would declare the aging Bonner Bridge safe for traffic.

That clearance did not come until late Friday afternoon, and NCDOT officials told the group on Thursday they’d need 24 to 36 hours to clear and assess roads on Hatteras where overwash had occurred.

The threat of a direct hit was so real, Alan Moran, the county’s NCDOT representative arranged for 27 pieces of heavy equipment to be placed on Hatteras Island to repair roads and rebuild dunes. Dare EMS stationed ambulances in villages along the island likely to be cut off by closed roads.

All of this information stood in stark contrast to the situation many of us were experiencing by Thursday and Friday when the winds were light, the surf was mostly contained east of the dune line and only a smattering of tropical rain downpours rolled through.

Woodard and the other commissioners pointed to the devastation to communities where the storm did make landfall and noted that if the storm had followed the more northerly route in the projected “cone,” what happened there would have happened here and the evacuation would have saved lives.

Woodard also heaped praise on several people, including Pearson, county Public Information Officer Dorothy Hester and Sheriff Doug Doughtie and National Park Service Eastern North Carolina Superintendent David Hallic for aid on Hatteras Island and at the Bonner Bridge during its closure and phased re-entry.

The chairman related how Dare EMS aided in the evacuation of patients and residents from the Peak skilled nursing facility in Nags Head making several trips to take transporting them as far away as Oxford and Goldsboro.

Steve House praised the SPCA for evacuating all animals safely from the flood-prone facility near the airport, finding shelters and foster homes for each.

Finally, Woodard praised law enforcement for noticing the Saturday morning backlog at the Wright Memorial Bridge when one lane was open and quickly calling up enough manpower to open two re-entry lanes, which cleared the backlog within an hour.

During the commissioner comments at the end of the meeting, each elected official lauded the Control Group and also praised the evacuation and re-entry as one of the most orderly in memory.

County Manager Bobby Outten summed the sentiment up by reminding those in attendance that the Control Group all have families and friends here that are affected by their decisions, and with that in mind, and taking in the damage and losses elsewhere, the group made the right choices with the information they had.

The rest of the agenda, which was mostly housekeeping items, moved forward quickly and the meeting adjourned less than two hours after it was called to order.

Comments

  • nigel

    First time I have ever seen everyone;business owners, visitors & residents get so prepared so fast. Hope we all do the same next time, & hope its not too soon!

    Tuesday, Sep 18 @ 6:33 am
  • Ed

    Outstanding job by all. I live here and left. My return was easy and orderly. Thanks to all first responders who sacrifice so much.

    Tuesday, Sep 18 @ 8:21 am
  • RAR

    Right decision made at the time. I think the control group an outstanding job!

    Tuesday, Sep 18 @ 10:26 am
  • W Sportsman

    Ol’ Woodward might want to check his facts on this: “Right up until Friday, the NWS was advising Dare County the threat of a direct hit was real, and that storm surge in several hotspots from Kitty Hawk to Pea Island, Rodanthe, Avon, Buxton, and Hatteras were almost a certainty.”

    In reality, the National Hurricane Center’s forecast track was outstanding with Florence. As early as the 2am advisory on Wednesday the NHC was predicting a less than 10% chance of hurricane force winds for most of Dare County. The 5 day forecast track from Saturday night actually was perfect, showing the storm right at Wrightsville Beach, NC.

    While some of the model guidance wavered, showing the storm near Hatteras several days prior to the eventual landfall, the National Hurricane Center correctly stayed on the southern side of the model guidance, close to the European forecast model, and nailed the forecast.

    Obviously there are significant uncertainties when it comes to tropical cyclone track forecasts several days out so the necessary precautions should be taken. Personally, I stayed based on the discussions from the National Hurricane Center, the briefings from the MHX office, and my own knowledge regarding the situation. That said, I do think the call to evacuate was correct. What I don’t agree with is making it sound like you had bad information when, in reality, that wasn’t the case.

    Archive of the graphics from the National Hurricane Center: https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/archive/2018/FLORENCE_graphics.php

    Advisory Archive of Florence from the National Hurricane Center:
    https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/archive/2018/FLORENCE.shtml?

    Tuesday, Sep 18 @ 10:40 am
  • Michael

    I think the county did everything perfect. They evacuated at the exact time and the same with reentry . Great job

    Tuesday, Sep 18 @ 2:11 pm
  • Darkseas

    I agree with W Sportsman that the NHC did a terrific job, and that it was clear to anyone who read carefully that by Wednesday it seemed unlikely that the northern towns would take much of a hit. The control group and the Board made a conservative call.

    I’m glad they did. My nightmare is that the tourists and property owners/residents don’t evacuate — not to mention everyone in Corolla and Corova. Then the storm turns to the north northwest and the 140 mph winds persist. Suddenly, with under 24 hours before the storm makes landfall, everyone wants out, mostly across the Wright Memorial Bridge. The roads on OBX become gridlocked, as does NC 158 headed north.

    Until the mid-Currituck bridge gets built, Dare and Currituck have to err on the side of early evacuations. And even then, there still needs to be time to get around blockages in Virginia if the storm will hit there too.

    One of things I think helped a lot this time was businesses shutting down. If the locals seem concerned, the tourists are more likely to be too.

    We left a bit before midnight Tuesday night. We had done everything we intended to do to protect the house. Our rationale for leaving was based on the flooding from the sand being inundated on Ocean Blvd near Southern Shores Realty after the post-Matthew rains and on the possibility of a lengthy power outage.

    There was no traffic anywhere during the drive.

    Tuesday, Sep 18 @ 8:44 pm
  • Alice Ann Hengesbach

    Job well done. Glad that we are safe. And now to keep helping our fellow Tar Heels who are not so fortunate.

    Tuesday, Sep 18 @ 9:31 pm
  • OBXowner

    The reality is that Woodard is dead right on the fact that the NWS refused to lift the hurricane warning from the northern beaches until mid-day Friday. That was the information that they were working with.

    Wednesday, Sep 19 @ 9:33 am
  • surf123

    Lots of glad-handing all the way around. The Red Cross praised Drew Pearson because everyone knows how greedy they are with money donated to them. Their track record of what they do with your donations is abysmal and they won’t even publicly answer questions about it. I am sure they were just happy that someone asked them for something, but they sure were not going to volunteer anything.

    Saturday, Sep 22 @ 7:08 pm
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