Rain Atop Rain
The outer bands of Tropical Storm Ernesto began reaching into the area early Thursday morning, just as parts of southern Moore County were trying to recover from another violent storm the day before.
Ernesto's much-anticipated arrival came on the heels of a powerful thunderstorm that dumped several inches of rain, knocked out power and caused some flooding in the southern part of the county Wednesday afternoon.
The expected rain and possible flooding from Ernesto prompted the Moore County school system and Episcopal Day School to announce Thursday afternoon that schools would open two hours late Friday morning. The O'Neal School canceled classes entirely. A number of school sporting events on Wednesday and Thursday were canceled. Several schools in the southern part of the county were flooded from the storm Wednesday.
The Aberdeen Town Board of Commissioners also had to cancel its meeting Thursday night because the Town Hall had flooded.
The National Weather Service placed Moore County and much of central North Carolina under a flash flood watch until this morning.
The storm slowed and was gaining strength late Thursday afternoon.
County Public Safety Director Scot Brooks said Thursday afternoon that the worst of the storm was expected to hit the area starting about 10 p.m. and continue until about 4 a.m.
He said the county was in contact with all fire departments, rescue squads, law-enforcement agencies, towns, the Red Cross and Progress Energy.
"We just want to make sure that we are ready for whatever happens," he said.
Brooks said shelters could be opened if needed. "People are on standby if needed," he added.
Storm 'Just Exploded'
Wednesday's isolated storm developed quickly just south of Pinebluff about 12:30 p.m., affecting mainly the Aberdeen and Southern Pines areas. It produced torrential downpours, lightning, high winds and some hail.
Nearly six inches of rain fell in some areas in less than two hours, causing flooding, especially in low-lying areas.
The heavy rainfall overwhelmed stormwater drainage systems in several areas. Some were clogged by debris in the runoff.
About 500 Progress Energy customers lost power Wednesday afternoon, according to Andy Honeycutt, a spokesman for the company in Aberdeen. He said the outages were scattered, mainly in the Southern Pines area. Most were short-lived. Some lasted several hours as crews worked to restore power.
Several power lines were downed. A utility pole and line was downed on U.S. 15-501 near the Sonic restaurant, Honeycutt said.
"It was a pretty concentrated storm that just exploded over the southern part of Moore County," Honeycutt said.
Several yards were flooded in the Hidden Valley subdivision behind Town & Country Shopping Center off U.S. 1 in Aberdeen, according to Kathy Cronauer, who lives on Vincent Way.
"I can't leave my house right now," she said Wednesday afternoon. "This is the third time our front yards have washed away. The first time was from Alberto, and then the heavy rain last Tuesday."
Later in the afternoon, the water began to recede. Hidden Valley is prone to flooding because of drainage problems, according to residents who live there.
At the Elks Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, past CEO and President Jack Grimm was furious.
Mud and silt from a town home development off Morganton Road and May Street, which backs up to the Elk's golf course, covered the first and 17th fairways.
Grimm estimated that 500,000 gallons of muddy water had damaged the course.
"I don't know what'll happen if this tropical storm comes through," he said. "The ground's already saturated."
Brooks, who spent most of the day Wednesday making preparations for Tropical Storm Ernesto, said the rest of the county was not affected. He said the storm developed very quickly.
"It was just that U.S. 1 corridor between Pinebluff and Southern Pines," he said. "It just seems that area keeps getting picked on lately."
More storms swept through the county Wednesday night ahead of Ernesto. At least three homes were struck by lightning -- one near Pinehurst and two in the Carthage area.
Flooding and downed trees from the storms blocked several roads.
On Thursday, the edge of Ernesto continued crawling toward central North Carolina, threatening to dump three to five inches of rain -- even more in some areas -- Thursday and into Friday morning.
Earlier in the week, Brooks sent information to all fire departments, rescue squads, law-enforcement agencies and emergency agencies about the potential for mainly flooding from Ernesto. There is also the potential for the storm to spawn tornadoes. He held a conference call with emergency officials Thursday.
Brooks urged residents to monitor weather conditions and to be prepared.
A stalled cold front in the eastern part of the state, combined with Ernesto, was expected to produce heavy rainfall Thursday, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a flash flood watch for Moore County through this morning. It warned that life-threatening flooding could occur.
The large amount of rainfall in a short period of time could result in flash flooding, especially along creeks and streams. Residents who live or drive through flood-prone areas are urged to monitor weather forecasts.
Brooks said forecasters were expecting that Moore County could see winds of 25 to 35 mph.
On Wednesday, Gov. Mike Easley activated the State's Emergency Response Team (SERT) and 150 National Guard soldiers as Tropical Storm Ernesto approached.
He urged residents to prepare for the likelihood of flooding and possible scattered power outages. The heaviest rain was expected from the Triad to the coast.
"This is primarily going to be a rain event for North Carolina, with the potential for flooding especially in low-lying areas," Easley said in a news release. "People who live in these areas need to be ready to evacuate if they are ordered to do so or if they feel unsafe. I urge everyone to stay tuned to local weather forecasts, heed the advice of local emergency officials, and take the necessary precautions to keep their families safe.
"One of the greatest dangers will be flooded roads. Do not drive in flooded waters. Most deaths from flooding occur in automobiles. These deaths are even more tragic because they can be prevented."
The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane watch from Cape Fear to the South Carolina border as a precaution.
"Ernesto should not be a major event for North Carolina, but it is still important that citizens be prepared," Easley said. "Make sure you have your emergency plans in place and that your disaster supply kit is fully stocked."
Guard Members Activated
The SERT has been participating in planning conference calls with local emergency management agencies, the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) since this weekend. SERT includes representatives of more than 40 state agencies and volunteer organizations such as the American Red Cross and Salvation Army.
The National Guard has more than 7,000 soldiers and airmen in the state and available for duty if needed. The Guard also has 14 helicopters, seven C-130 aircraft, and numerous high-clearance vehicles and generators ready to go.
Easley also activated 150 members of the National Guard and ordered two Blackhawk helicopters be relocated to Morrisville from Salisbury to be available in the event they are needed for rescues.
The SERT has alerted the swift water rescue teams to be ready to respond to flooding. The 25 teams were formed after Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and were responsible for more than 1,100 rescues during the 2004 hurricane season.
The state also has teams that specialize in urban search and rescue, medical response, hazardous materials response and public health preparedness.
Check ThePilot.com for updates on this developing story.
David Sinclair can be reached at 693-2462 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Online News Coordinator Ryan C. Tuck contributed to this report.
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