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Avery County Got By With Minimal Impacts From Florence Storm

By Tim Gardner

Perhaps an accurate way to term Storm Florence’s impact in Avery County would be that it was minimal, but that it could have been a lot worse.

Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier said Avery dodged a “major bullet for the most part” as Florence brought steady and consistent, but not heavy downpours to the county, causing relatively minor problems.

According to reports from the National Weather Service, Avery County received between 4 ½ to 5 inches of rain from Saturday until Monday afternoon.

Barrier heaped praise on the county’s emergency services outlets for their efforts during Hurricane Florence, saying it was a “total team in its most powerful sense.”

He then expounded upon that analogy with the following comments: “On behalf of the Avery County Government, I thank everyone from our County’s emergency services for their hard work during Storm Florence. These include personnel from our fire and rescue departments, Sheriff’s Department, 911 Communications, Emergency Management Office and the local American Red Cross workers. Our Parks and Recreation staff also was a big help. Individuals from these agencies went far beyond the call of duty to put the county in the best prepared state it could be in for the hurricane or storm.

“They all had very organized plans to combat any problems caused by Florence. The citizens of the county can take great pride in having these personnel to help them during a natural disaster such as Florence.”

Avery County Board of Commissioners chairperson Martha Hicks issued a State of Emergency on Friday that went into effect at noon Saturday and was cancelled Monday morning. There were flooded roadways and rivers and streams with near-capacity high-rising waters in the county. Also, part of the Land Harbor Resort, situated between Pineola and Montezuma had an evacuation in one section Sunday evening, according to Paul Buchanan, Avery’s Assistant Emergency Management Coordinator and Assistant Fire Marshall.

There were only a few power outages in the county as reported by Mountain Electric and Duke Progress Energy, which provides electricity to customers in Avery County.

However, there was a lot of downed trees and debris throughout the county. But still there have been other hurricanes and storms do much more damage and cause many more problems in the county such as Hurricanes Hugo and Katrina in 1989 and 2005, respectively, as well as other rain storms such as a couple that hit the county this past spring which left broken roadways, people stranded in their own homes who had to be rescued and some who could not even get to their homes because of flooded or pavement-broken or washed-away gravel roads and driveways.

Avery’s neighboring counties to the South, Mitchell and Yancey, were not as fortunate as Avery. Like Avery, Mitchell and Yancey issued State of Emergency orders. Mitchell’s expired Monday and Yancey’s Tuesday morning.

Most areas in Yancey got several inches of rain on Sunday but it was the 14.42 inches received on Mount Mitchell that created massive problems. That heavy rain created flooding along Cane River and Toe River.

The Pensacola, South Toe, and Cane River areas had dozens of roads flooded prompting Yancey County Emergency Management officials to implement a curfew that was in effect from 8:00 p.m. Sunday night until 6:00 am Monday morning.

The curfew encouraged residents to stay home and away from flooded roads.

As of early Monday all roads in Yancey County were back open.

According to the Red Cross, more than 850 people spent Sunday night in 18 Red Cross and community shelters in the western half of North Carolina.

Mitchell County also received heavy rain amounts and its emergency personnel reportedly had to conduct a swift water rescue on Monday.

Schools were closed in Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties on Monday as were some businesses, but they all reopened today (Tuesday).

Buchanan said that emergency personnel from Avery County would be dispatched within the next few days to coastal areas of North Carolina, where Florence hit with catastrophic flooding as a hurricane before being downgraded to a tropical cyclone and finally to a tropical storm. Weather officials also noted that around 40 inches of rain fell in some North Carolina coastal areas.

Emergency Officials said that 32 have died because of Florence, including 24 in North Carolina.

Buchanan added that Avery’s personnel would assist emergency workers at the coast in “whatever ways needed.” He noted that it has not been determined how long Avery’s emergency personnel who are sent to the coast may be staying to help out in the area.