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North Carolina prepares for Hurricane Dennis

BY GEORGE PIPER | Raleigh, NC | August 27, 1999

Emergency management officials report seeing more public preparation than in years past. After

sustaining hits from Bonnie last year and Fran in 1996, North Carolina residents take storm precautions

seriously, said Tom Ditt, public information officer for North Carolina Emergency Management.

"Your actions are based on past experience," he said. "If you have had a hurricane in the recent past, then

they still remember it."

The latest threat is Hurricane Dennis, whose movements prompted a hurricane watch on Friday for central

Florida. The storm could hit the northern Bahamas on Saturday morning and the forecast path puts it on

target to hit South Carolina on Sunday, with possible impacts to Florida and Georgia before that. Dennis'

route could affect the eastern United States from North Carolina to central Florida before it's over.

Charlie Moeller, a Church World Service (CWS) disaster resource facilitator, has been alerting his contacts.

The challenge from a planning standpoint is that Dennis has several options, he added. Mainland storm

fronts could pull Dennis closer or push it out to sea, depending upon when it moves toward the United

States. Its speed and the amount of time it spends over warm Atlantic waters also will affect its strength

and destination.

Interfaith groups are on standby as Dennis approaches the East Coast. Interfaith Disaster Response of

North Carolina (IDRNC) is firing up the mobile field office and telling its consultants to be ready for a big

storm, said Dennis Levin, coordinator for the organization. The mobile unit contains a printer, scanner, fax,

short wave and citizen band radios and cellular phones and can turn a local church into a communications

center if needed.

IDRNC enjoys a good working relationship with other disaster relief and emergency response agencies. It

currently is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to prioritize Small Business

Administration applications and assist people who struggle with the forms.

Working off a CWS model to set up or reinforce local interfaith groups, IDRNC plans to involve local

churches as rest stations for evacuating motorists. Different from an overnight shelter, the rest stations

would allow people to stop and nap or get some coffee during the long drive.

The goal isn't to delay motorists from leaving the hurricane area, but to keep them fresh while on the

road, Levin said. Trips from the outer banks to the mainland can take up to four hours during an

evacuation, he said, and it can be another hour from Manteo to a place to stop for gas.

In addition to helping Florida residents, Florida Interfaiths Networking in Disasters (FIND) hopes to be

available for other states, said Jody Hill, FIND coordinator. "Now that we have interfaiths in these other

states, it make it more feasible to do these kinds of things," she said.

Primarily a disaster recovery organization designed to focus on unmet needs, FIND has contacted

emergency management, insurance, church and other organizations to prepare for this hurricane season.

Other states are monitoring Dennis and making preparations for a possible visit. In South Carolina, the

National Guard and state troopers are on alert for deployment if Dennis comes ashore there. The state's

Emergency Preparedness Division also is contacting disaster relief and emergency response agencies to

coordinate relief efforts.

Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) officials are briefing coastal emergency management

offices and getting the word out to residents to organize preparedness kits, said Pamela Swanson, GEMA

public affairs director. The agency's Web site contains evacuation routes and information on shelters,

including which ones will accept pets.

North Carolina officials tried to reach as many of the state's 150,000 coastal residents as possible with

newspaper inserts and brochures. Emergency management personnel conducted public presentations with

various groups, including a recent visit with a Raleigh apartment rental group that houses some 37,000

people on 85 properties.

"We're reaching constituencies that we've probably never reached before as a result of Bonnie in 1998 and

Fran in 1996," Ditt said. Officials also are warning people about the floods that accompany hurricanes,

noting that the majority of hurricane deaths result from drowning.

Local media also have helped spread the message. When Hurricane Bret hit Texas this week, television

stations and newspapers gave the storm good coverage and tied it into preparations for North Carolina.

In a unique twist, North Carolina is tying the hurricane season to the Y2K computer crisis, said Ditt. The

thinking is that if people can be self-sustainable for three to five days if a hurricane strikes, their disaster

preparedness will help them in a similar Y2K situation.

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