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McCrory Declares State Of Emergency For NC As Joaquin Continues To Intensify

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State of North Carolina
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N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory discusses state preparations ahead of Hurricane Joaquin.

Charlotte Talks

Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday declared a state of emergency for all 100 N.C. counties in anticipation of Hurricane Joaquin, upgraded mid-afternoon to a powerful Category 4 storm.

McCrory said the storm that’s moving up the Atlantic from the Bahamas could deliver 5 to 7 inches of rain to most of the already rain-saturated state, and up to 10 inches in the mountains.

“We are talking of the possibility of deadly flooding in most areas of our state,” McCrory said at a news conference shortly after 12:30 p.m. “We are ready, and we are prepared.”

The storm picked up steam as it barreled over warm ocean waters of the Bahamas. By afternoon Thursday, it had exploded in intensity and was a Category 4 storm, yet its track had begun to turn east, the National Hurricane Center said. The center expected the storm to continue to grow, potentially developing sustained winds of 140 mph.

Emergency crews are set to respond wherever evacuations are needed and other storm-related crises arise, the governor said.

McCrory said he’s concerned Joaquin could mimic Hurricane Floyd, which killed 57 people and caused $6.9 billion damage along the East Coast in 1999. The storm produced torrential rains and widespread flooding in Eastern North Carolina.

The Charlotte region is under a flash flood watch beginning at 8 a.m. Friday and ending at 8 a.m. Monday, with forecasters predicting Hurricane Joaquin will deliver 4 to 8 inches of rain.

Total rainfall will depend on how the hurricane interacts with an upper-level low pressure system that’s expected to remain over the Southeast through the weekend.

“Storm total rainfall amounts are still very uncertain,” the National Weather Service in Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., said in its flash flood watch advisory early Thursday. “However, several inches of rain appear likely across the watch area through the weekend.”

Periods of heavy rain are expected to produce flash flooding along smaller creeks and streams, especially where lots of rain has fallen in recent days, the weather service said.

The weather service warned of landslides and of debris flowing in rivers and creeks across the mountains and foothills this weekend.

Due to rain’s potential impact on field conditions, two Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools high school football games have been moved from Friday to 7 p.m. Thursday: West Charlotte High at North Mecklenburg High (North Meck’s homecoming will be moved to Oct. 30) and Charlotte Catholic High at Harding University High.

The seven other home games involving CMS schools remain scheduled 7 p.m. Friday.

Joaquin was upgraded to a Category 3 hurricane Wednesday night and had maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Early Thursday, the hurricane center adjusted the predicted track of Joaquin eastward, and it’s possible the storm won’t make landfall until it reaches Long Island, N.Y., or southern New England.

Still, the interaction of the low pressure system in the western Carolinas and the circulation around Joaquin would bring a strong flow of wet air off the Atlantic into the Carolinas, forecasters said.

The flood watch area also includes the N.C. mountains and York and Chester counties, S.C.

Rain in the Charlotte area will be particularly heavy east of Interstate 77 and in parts of the North Carolina foothills on Friday.

The region has a 60 percent chance of rain Thursday, mainly after 1 p.m., an 80 percent chance Thursday night and a 90 percent chance Friday and Saturday. Chances should fall to 50 percent by Sunday.

Forecast high temperatures will be much cooler than in recent days: 68 Thursday, 60 Friday and 64 Saturday, before climbing back to 68 Sunday and 70 Monday. The normal high this week is 77.

To prepare for rain from Joaquin, workers with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services began searching notoriously flood-prone areas Wednesday for clogged drains and anything that would impede water flow in creeks.

“We’re investigating trouble spots where we know people have had flooding in the past for anything that will impede the flow of a lot of water,” said Mark Boone, a spokesman for Storm Water Services. “We fan the county to make sure our maintenance of infrastructure is kept up and where we know there’s construction nearby that could cause problems for us.”

Storm Water Services also asked residents to identify flood risks near their homes, report clogged storm drains (by calling 311) and map evacuation routes.

Boone said the stormwater system and creeks “are in great shape now” to handle up to 2 inches of rain in an hour. Yet in floodplains and in some low-lying urban areas, an inch of rain an hour could cause flooding – especially with the ground saturated from rain in the past several days.

Crews planned to inspect 60 sites Thursday, Boone said. They were at one “hot spot” Thursday morning where limbs and other natural vegetation clogged Four Mile Creek, in the 8800 block of Providence Road, just north of Interstate 485 and south of Pineville-Matthews Road.

Garry McCormick, a battalion chief with the Charlotte Fire Department who’s assigned to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management, said he has been monitoring the hurricane’s track and rainfall predictions.

It’s rare for the city to bring in extra firefighters, he said. The roughly 250 firefighters who will be on duty each day are trained for the type of swiftwater rescues that can occur during urban flooding, McCormick said. And two stations that respond to floods with rescue boats will be staffed around the clock.

The department’s biggest concerns are always people who try to walk or drive through flooded streets.

“Sometimes (floodwater) will just take the streets out; it’ll take the sidewalks out,” McCormick said. “Just because they can see across the water, they think the street’s still there. People can walk through flooded water, and the next step they take, the street’s gone and the sidewalk’s gone.”

Although rain bands from Joaquin will hit the region as early as Thursday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center’s long-term forecast showed the storm could approach the East Coast north of North Carolina by early next week.

“Residents of the Carolinas north should be paying attention and monitoring the storm. There’s no question,” said Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist with the center. “If your hurricane plans got a little dusty because of the light hurricane season, now is a good time to update them.”