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U.S. prepares for Hurricane Dennis

BY GEORGE PIPER | RALEIGH, N.C. | August 27, 1999

RALEIGH, N.C. (Aug. 27, 1999) -- Recent years' hurricanes are

prompting preparedness for Hurricane Dennis along the North Carolina


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 much

more 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 is expected

to hit the northern Bahamas on Saturday morning and the forecast path

puts it on target to hit North or 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. And on Friday night, forecasters

were suggesting the storm could stall just off the Carolina coast,

battering the coast with high winds and rain for a day or more.

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

Interfaith Disaster Response of North Carolina (IDRNC) is firing up

its 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


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


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


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


"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


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 reasoning 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


Posted Aug. 27, 1999

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