McDowell County, Marion officials prepare for Irma

Friday afternoon, both McDowell County and city of Marion officials are keeping a close watch on the path of Hurricane Irma and getting ready for any possible local impact from this massive storm.

The McDowell County Board of Commissioners meeting that was originally scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday was postponed until 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18 due to the threat of severe weather associated with Hurricane Irma, according to County Manager Ashley Wooten.

In times like this, the county government has a coordinated response plan led by McDowell Emergency Management.

“Several departments across the organization have a role to play in the event of a disaster,” said Wooten on Friday. “For example, the Department of Social Services is charged with operating shelters in coordination with the American Red Cross. Facility Maintenance ensures county facilities have working generators and supplies. Public Works helps with debris removal, sandbag-filling and more.”

In addition, the Senior Center could be called upon to prepare meals for those who need them. Other departments have support roles to play when the frontline agencies need assistance, said the county manager.

The city of Marion has no meetings or events that need to be rescheduled due to Irma. But Marion officials are getting ready for anything that can happen.

“As we do before any potential emergency situation of which we have advance notice, such as a winter storm or tropical system, city departments are making sure that generators and other vehicles and equipment that may be needed are checked and are in good condition,” said City Manager Bob Boyette on Friday.

Each of Marion’s departments will also make sure that staff or volunteers are available to respond after normal business hours and that normal operations can be maintained as much as possible. Like McDowell, the city has an emergency plan and also coordinates with county emergency officials.

Thursday evening, Boyette and several department heads took part in a multi-agency briefing coordinated by McDowell Emergency Management.

“We are hopeful that the current storm track will hold that will take Irma farther west than was predicted as recently as last evening,” said the city manager. “However, we realize that the storm track can change again and will prepare for the worst.”

The Joseph McDowell Historical Catawba Greenway sometimes has flood damage since it is a riverside park.

“That is always a possibility,” said Boyette on Friday. “The last projection I saw called for us to receive about three inches of rain, but that could change.”

While Irma’s track appeared more favorable for North Carolina, dangerous weather could still hit the Tar Heel State Monday through Tuesday. On Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper urged residents to continue with their emergency preparations, according to a news release.

“Things are looking better for North Carolina with Hurricane Irma, but our state is not yet in the clear and we can’t let our guard down,” said Cooper. “We’re continuing to get ready, and I encourage families and businesses across our state to do the same.”

Irma remains a large and powerful storm, and even a glancing blow to the state could cause damage, the governor and emergency management officials said.

While the latest forecast indicates a more westward track for Hurricane Irma, there is still the potential for severe weather across all of North Carolina. Heavy rain, flash flooding (especially in low-lying areas), tornadoes and scattered power outages are possible most anywhere across the state Monday and Tuesday. Landslides are possible in the mountains and coastal areas will see strong rip currents, according to the news release.

The governor said the state of emergency issued Thursday remains in effect until the threat has passed.

The State Emergency Operations Center remains activated and operations will continue as long as needed. North Carolina National Guard troops and state troopers also remain on standby. N.C. Department of Environmental Quality staff members are working with local communities to activate debris storage sites to speed up the cleanup process. They also are communicating with local public water systems and coastal fishermen to ensure they are prepared for the storm. Cooper praised the county partners for their “hard work in preparing for the storm crediting the partnership between local and state agencies as one of the reasons North Carolina has such a strong and resilient team.” The governor reminded residents to have emergency plans and supply kits in place and stay tuned to weather forecasts and local media, according to the news release.