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'These are going to be more common': Tropical Storm Ian hits NC, causes outages and closures

A fallen tree blocks South Columbia St. near Westwood Dr. on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, the day after Hurricane Ian made its way through Chapel Hill.

After passing through South Carolina as a hurricane, Ian hit North Carolina as a tropical storm last weekend, causing power outages, downed trees, blocked roads and five deaths.

On Sept. 28, Gov. Roy Cooper declared a State of Emergency to “activate the state’s emergency operations plan," according to a press release.

“Even just declaring a State of Emergency has legal implications,” Kate Van Tol, legal fellow of emergency management for the UNC School of Government, said in an email.

Kathie Dello, state climatologist for North Carolina and director of the N.C. State Climate Office, said Ian was one of the biggest storms in the state's recent history.

“This will be like Florence or Matthew, which were two big recent events, but this will impact a little bit more of central North Carolina,” Dello said.

During the storm, wind speeds peaked at 30-32 miles per hour with gusts reaching 40-48 miles per hour at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Friday evening.

At Horace Williams Airport in Chapel Hill, a total of 3.6 inches of rain fell as of 8 p.m. on Sept. 29. The highest amount recorded in the state over that period of time was 6.1 inches at Tidewater Research Station in Plymouth, N.C.

Around 4 p.m. Friday, a fallen tree brought down power lines on South Columbia Street, which caused a road closure between Mason Farm Road and Purefoy Road near the UNC Hospitals Ambulatory Care Center. 

Around 3 p.m. Saturday, another road closure caused by similar circumstances occurred on Highway 54 between Merritt Mill Road and South Columbia Street.

Both roads have since reopened, according to a press release.

The number of North Carolina residents without power peaked at approximately 418,000 after 11 p.m. on Sept. 30.

Ashley Stoop, the health director of Albemarle Regional Health Services in Elizabeth City, N.C., said in an email that people should be prepared for hurricanes because their paths can be unpredictable.

“Hurricanes can cause health issues including food and water safety concerns, disease outbreaks, mental health issues, and limited access to care,” Stoop said. “We also can see a rise in the vector population because of flooding which could lead to vector borne illness.”

Vector borne illnesses are defined as “bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas,” according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services website.

Geoff Gisler, a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said wastewater infrastructure can be overwhelmed by the large volume of water in a hurricane, potentially causing an area’s water supply to be contaminated.

“Low-lying areas are not places where you want to have heavy industrialized hog operations that have open cesspits,” Gisler said. “It's better to have wastewater infrastructure where water treatment plants are out of the floodplain because you just get raw or partially-treated sewage going into streams and rivers.”

On Sept. 30, state officials from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality advised residents to avoid swimming in the state's coastal waters until it is deemed safe, according to a press release on the NCDEQ website.

Gisler said the SELC works to make sure the law keeps up with the increased frequency and intensity of storms brought on by the effects of climate change.

“These are going to be more common and we're seeing them increasing in frequency,” he said. “It's up to the leaders to adjust the way we do things to our new reality and hopefully we won't have to learn too many hard lessons in this storm.”


@DTHCityState | 

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