Preparations being made ahead of Hurricane Irma

By: By Christine S. Carroll -

Richmond County schools, governments and businesses are bracing as well as they can for Hurricane Irma — and it isn’t as easy for them as making sure to have a pantry full of bread and bottled water.

It helps, though, that some have the lessons of last year’s Hurricane Matthew to guide them.

• Officials of Richmond County Schools have reviewed emergency plans with individual principals and will be watching Irma closely during the weekend, spokeswoman Briana Goins said Friday. “(Plus), it is likely we will either meet or have a phone conference on Sunday to make a decision about whether … it is safe to have school on Monday,” she said. The schools’ executive director of student services, Dennis Quick, will keep in close contact with Emergency Management Services throughout the weekend.

Any decision on closing schools, or changing start or dismissal times, will be distributed to local news media, Goins said. The families of all students also will receive up-to-date information via Connect-Ed.

• Workers in the City of Hamlet have been busy clearing storm drains of pesky pine straw so that torrential rains will go into the sewer system and not sluice across lawns. Hamlet does have a few low points, notably in the western part of the city — and those folks should be prepared for standing water.

Residents should not have to worry about having enough drinking water, though. The city’s water plant sits on a hill — so it should not be overwhelmed by floodwaters — and has 600,000 gallons of treated water in reserve. That’s enough to last through five or six days of power outages, said public works director Billy Stubbs.

City Manager Jonathan Blanton said officials had drawn up an emergency document just in case Hamlet needed disaster relief in the aftermath of Irma. It received about $27,000 after Matthew, he said.

• Pee Dee Electric is “making sure all the trucks are oiled and gassed up” and all crews are ready in case power outages affect the co-op’s 21,000 customers, communications specialist Ashley Haynes said Friday. All employees are on standby, and Pee Dee Electric is coordinating with other co-ops to make sure customers are covered throughout the state.

• Tim Hayden of Hayden Construction Inc. made 99 calls in the three or four days after Matthew, opposed to an average of three or four a day during decent weather. For this hurricane, HCI has put all of its employees and subcontractors on standby in case of widespread damage — it specializes in restoration after flooding. The company also has “stocked up on” tarps, chain saws and fuel, Hayden said.

“We’re keeping a close eye on it” in case the company again has to perform a sort of triage to get to worst-affected customers first, he said.

• Due to the threat of Irma, the United Way of Richmond County has rescheduled its Kick Off and “Day of Caring” to Friday, Sept. 22, executive director Michelle Parrish announced Friday.

• The N.C. Department of Transportation has suspended most roadwork and lane closures throughout the state, to ease traffic flow on main highways. Vance and Warren counties near the Virginia line are the exceptions.

N.C. DOT also has planned for potential debris removal, a DOT spokesman said. Crews and equipment have been put on standby for dispatch to any part of the state affected by hurricane damage.

Those who plan to travel this weekend may receive real-time travel information from or NCDOT on Twitter.

• Gov. Roy Cooper has told North Carolinians to prepare for the effects of the storm, even though forecasts say it will weaken before it hits the state. “Just because it might be at tropical-storm strength doesn’t mean this storm isn’t going to be very dangerous,” he said. Cooper has declared a state of emergency and warned that Irma could affect any of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

In 2016, Matthew hit one month later than Irma will, leaving behind $1.5 billion in damage statewide.

In Richmond County, rain and wind felled several trees, taking down power lines and blocking roads. Floodwaters blocked Biltmore and Long drives. The weather delayed Norman Fest and affected the Richmond Senior High School homecoming game.

More than 200,000 Pee Dee residents lost power, including more than 1,000 in Richmond County. Power was restored within days.

By Christine S. Carroll

Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.

Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.