RALEIGH – In a press conference Friday afternoon, Gov. Pat McCrory said that it appears that European models of Hurricane Joaquin’s trajectory were correct and the storm will not come ashore in North Carolina. However, with anywhere from 5 to 10 inches of rain expected, threats of landslides and widespread flooding still have state emergency management officials on high alert.
“I’ve talked several times to the National Hurricane Center to assess the threat level and it looks like it will remain offshore of North Carolina. While we are likely to miss direct impact, there are threats of flooding, most likely in central and western part of state,” said McCrory. “All 100 counties will remain under flood or flash flood watch because this is a direct threat to life and property. We will continue to remain on alert well into next week.”
While experts feel that major rivers banks will hold, they say it is not an exact science. Threats of landslides increase after 5 inches of rain, and they will be closely watching roadways, the French Broad river, the Haw River and other major bodies throughout the week.
There is still a mandatory evacuation of Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks and officials say they have ferried more than 1,100 people off the island. There was also one reported death due to the storm. A driver was killed on I-95 overnight when a tree fell and hit his car.
“I’m worried about everyone’s safety,” said McCrory. “I am also very worried about agriculture across the state… Peanut harvesting is going on now and sweet potatoes are on their way.”
Soil saturation and high winds means that the state is likely to see downed trees and downed power lines. It also means that harvesting will be difficult and crops could be washed away or drowned.
“While lessening of wind and water is good news and means avoiding a catastrophic impact to agriculture. They say there are three bad seasons for farming; a cool wet spring, a dry summer and a wet fall. This year we’ve had them all, so here we are,” said Agriculture Secretary Steve Troxler. “This leads to losses and significantly reduced yield. For example, 25 percent of tobacco is still in the field. N.C. State [University] has put the peanut losses at $9 million and that number will continue to climb.”
Harvested crops could also be affected if the storm causes extended and widespread power outages. So far, the N.C. Department of Agriculture reports no problems with the state’s livestock or poultry operations. Staff will continue to keep a close eye on it as the storm moves though the state.
For now, emergency rescue teams remain on alert and deployed throughout the state while official watch the impact of the high level of rainfall. Fast-water rescue teams are poised near major waterways and officials are warning people to stay away from floodwaters.
“We have a swift-water team in Williamston, North Carolina for example,” said Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry. “We’ve staged resources so they’ll be close by where we think the vulnerable places are.”
Officials advise people to make sure their safety kits are up to date and their entire family knows what to do in an emergency. Most of all, they are warning people to stay away from floodwaters, no matter how shallow they appear. They could have a fast-moving current.
“Most storm-related deaths are from drowning, ” said McCrory. “Don’t forget you are putting everyone in your car at risk, and putting emergency responders at risk. Turn around.”
Joaquin is now expected to make landfall further up the coast, closer to Maryland or Delaware, on Monday. McCrory said he is planning to reach out to governors of other states later today to offer support. He is also planning another press conference tomorrow to update the public with the storm’s latest information.
“It’s been a dramatic change in the last 14 to 16 hours. At one point they were predicting historic, catastrophic damage here in North Carolina, but within hours the direction changed,” he said. “…We are ready to help any of our neighbors as they have helped us in the past.”
Sprayberry said the state is poised to deploy National Guard troops, swift-water rescue, urban search-and-rescue and hazmat teams anywhere in North Carolina and across state lines with the approval of the governor.