Va. fi­nal­izes prepa­ra­tions, di­verts aid to Caroli­nas

While state should avoid most of storm, Northam urges pre­cau­tions

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY ALI ROCKETT

As Hur­ri­cane Florence be­gan to bear down on the Caroli­nas on Thurs­day, Vir­ginia of­fi­cials made fi­nal prepa­ra­tions for the storm’s po­ten­tial im­pact in some southern parts of the state, in­clud­ing Hamp­ton Roads and South­west Vir­ginia.

With Vir­ginia fore­cast to avoid the brunt of the storm, state of­fi­cials, as well as na­tional emer­gency re­sponse ad­min­is­tra­tors and local re­spon­ders, have freed up some re­sources for re­sponse far­ther south.

“We still an­tic­i­pate trop­i­cal storm-force winds, flood­ing, and sev­eral inches of rain in parts of Vir­ginia,” Gov. Ralph Northam said at a news con­fer­ence at the state’s Emer­gency Op­er­a­tions Cen­ter in Ch­ester­field County. “We’re ad­vis­ing Vir­gini­ans to shel­ter in place from this point for­ward. Stay where you are, and please, stay off the roads.”

In cen­tral Vir­ginia, Rich­mond In­ter­na­tional Air­port re­ported three can­cel­la­tions Thurs­days and six flights de­layed by more than an hour as the storm be­gan to make travel haz­ardous. For Fri­day, six flights were can­celed a day in ad­vance.

The city opened two shel­ters Thurs­day af­ter­noon: Black­well Ele­men­tary School, 1600 Everett St., and Lin­wood Holton Ele­men­tary School, 1600 W. Labur­num Ave. Pets are al­lowed at Lin­wood Holton.

The state also opened shel­ters at Christo­pher New­port Univer­sity in New­port News and the Col­lege of Wil­liam & Mary in Wil­liams­burg. State of­fi­cials es­ti­mated about 400 peo­ple were shel­tered — far be­low ear­lier pre­dic­tions of 100,000 peo­ple.

Just days ear­lier, the state was brac­ing for a direct hit and fore­casts called for dou­ble-digit rain­fall across most of the state. Hamp­ton Roads and the state’s south­ern­most area could ex­pe­ri­ence the strong winds as the storm comes ashore Fri­day and moves hor­i­zon­tally across North Carolina.

Northam warned Vir­gini­ans to keep up their guard, as the storm’s path has been un­pre­dictable thus far.

“If we de­ter­mine that the re­sources we’ve prestaged for the storm are not needed to help Vir­gini­ans, we will of­fer them to the Caroli­nas and help them re­cover from this his­toric storm,” he said.

Jeff Stern, Vir­ginia’s co­or­di­na­tor of emer­gency man­age­ment, said the state al­ready has di­verted some re­sources in North­ern Vir­ginia. Ear­lier this week, Stern said the state re­leased an ur­ban search and res­cue team from Fair­fax County to “na­tional-duty sta­tus” for the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency.

“We will con­tinue to as­sess our re­source needs through­out the week­end,” Stern said, adding that the ex­pected north­ern turn of the storm could largely af­fect South­west Vir­ginia, which he and Northam re­peat­edly called “al­ready sat­u­rated,” well into next week. “We want to make sure all our cit­i­zens get through this with­out any loss of life. We want to then check on our in­fra­struc­ture sys­tems: trans­porta­tion, hos­pi­tals, wa­ter, sewer, power, com­mu­ni­ca­tions — any of th­ese could be af­fected. And si­mul­ta­ne­ously we will be­gin to as­sist our neigh­bors to the south.”

In Rich­mond’s Shockoe Bot­tom area, some busi­ness own­ers were cau­tiously op­ti­mistic Thurs­day. Many busi­nesses in the low-ly­ing area have been par­tic­u­larly wary of se­ri­ous storms ever since rem­nants of Trop­i­cal Storm Gas­ton dumped 11 inches of rain over eight hours in 2004, caus­ing se­vere flood­ing.

“I’m not wor­ried that much,” said Vic­tor Srikusalanukul, owner of Sumo San, a Ja­panese res­tau­rant on East Main Street. “It seems the city is pre­pared.”

Srikusalanukul had opened Sumo San five months be­fore Gas­ton brought 5 to 6 inches of wa­ter into his res­tau­rant. It took a month and a half be­fore he could re­open the doors, and it didn’t help that he didn’t re­ceive fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance from FEMA, he said.

He ex­pects Florence to

be much tamer, but he’s moved ev­ery­thing off the floor of the res­tau­rant’s base­ment, just in case.

At nearby Bot­toms Up Pizza, which sits di­rectly across the street from the James River flood­wall, there’s a line painted on its wall 6 feet and 2 inches above the ground, mark­ing the height that Gas­ton’s flood­wa­ters reached 14 years ago.

Thirty Do­min­ion En­ergy Services trucks with 60 line­men from North­ern Vir­ginia passed through Peters­burg to re­fuel and pick up sup­plies as they headed south on Thurs­day

af­ter­noon.

Do­min­ion spokesman Rob Richard­son said the crews were pre­pared for a 14-day trip that will first take them to ser­vice any out­ages to the nearly 124,000 Do­min­ion cus­tomers on the Outer Banks be­fore aid­ing other util­ity com­pa­nies’ re­sponse to the storm in North Carolina. Richard­son said crews from Peters­burg and other local of­fices in the southern parts of Vir­ginia were al­ready pre­pared and staged to han­dle the re­sponse lo­cally.

D.J. Uf­fel­man is a line­man from Do­min­ion’s Fair­fax of­fice who was trav­el­ing with the crews for what he called a “record storm.” He has worked with the power com­pany for seven years and re­sponded to count­less storms, in­clud­ing a trip to Louisiana in 2012 for Hur­ri­cane Isaac.

“It’s al­ways eas­ier to go help other fam­i­lies in times of need,” Uf­fel­man said. “It’s not easy to leave my fam­ily.”

The days will be long, Uf­fel­man said, es­ti­mat­ing 16-hour shifts. But he said he’ll pass the time in be­tween by check­ing in with fam­ily and tak­ing care of him­self. Eat­ing, sleep­ing and stay­ing hy­drated are key for the work­ers so they can get the job done and stay safe in haz­ardous con­di­tions, he said.

“Putting that last fuse back in, you can some­times hear peo­ple scream­ing in their houses, and they come out and clap as we sort of do a pa­rade out of the neigh­bor­hood,” Uf­fel­man said. “That’s enough to keep me go­ing.”

Just west of Peters­burg, more than 100 am­bu­lances and med­i­cal per­son­nel used the Army’s Fort Lee as a stag­ing area as they awaited re­sponse or­ders. They as­sem­bled as part of FEMA’s Na­tional Re­sponse Frame­work, which is a cri­sis man­age­ment plan that uses co­op­er­a­tive ef­fort be­tween fed­eral, state and local agen­cies to pool as­sets that might be needed dur­ing storms. Fort Lee’s easy ac­cess to In­ter­states 95 and 85 made it an ideal lo­ca­tion for stag­ing, ac­cord­ing to Nate Allen, a spokesman for the gar­ri­son.

“Lo­gis­ti­cally, we’re in a good place to get things into and out of the area,” Allen said. An added bonus: Fort Lee is “out of the path of the storm,” he said.

Crews — and their ve­hi­cles — trav­eled from as far away as New York, In­di­ana and Mis­souri.

The at­mos­phere as the crews be­gan ar­riv­ing Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day wasn’t much dif­fer­ent from a de­ploy­ment, Allen said. In fact, they de­scribed it as “a de­ploy­ment for FEMA.”

“There is lit­tle de­lay or prep time when they get the or­ders of where to go,” Allen said. “They are al­ready de­ployed. It’s just an­other leg of the jour­ney.”

arock­ett@timesdis­patch.com (804) 649-6527 Twit­ter: @AliRock­et­tRTD

Staff writer Bridget Balch con­trib­uted to this re­port.

TRAVIS LONG/THE NEWS & OB­SERVER

Waves slammed the pier in At­lantic Beach, N.C., on Thurs­day as Hur­ri­cane Florence ap­proached the area.

SHELBY LUM/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Do­min­ion En­ergy trucks were lined up Thurs­day in Peters­burg ahead of their de­ploy­ment to North Carolina. Thirty trucks and 60 line­men passed through, with the crews pre­pared for a 14-day trip.

SHELBY LUM/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Do­min­ion En­ergy trucks passed through Peters­burg on Thurs­day for sup­plies and fuel. Sixty line­men and 30 trucks from North­ern Vir­ginia are mak­ing a 14-day trip to help Do­min­ion cus­tomers in the Outer Banks and to as­sist North Carolina’s recovery from Hur­ri­cane Florence.

ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

A wall at Bot­toms Up Pizza shows the wa­ter line from the 2004 flood caused in Shockoe Bot­tom by the rem­nants of Trop­i­cal Storm Gas­ton.

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