POLK COUNTY, NC (WSPA) – Western North Carolina communities that are still dealing with effects of deadly mudslides and flooding are now keeping a close watch on Hurricane Florence.
The massive category four storm is threatening flooding rain in that area, all while thousands of people visiting for the World Equestrian Games. The event officially kicked off Tuesday at the Tryon International Equestrian Center.
“It’s challenging because it seems like it’s been one thing after another,” said Polk County Manager Marche Pittman. “We’re trying to make sure folks understand that we’re trying to stay on top of it. We want to protect the public safety of our local citizens which is of the utmost importance to us and, you know, we also what to protect the folks that are coming in.”
Pittman said county leaders are monitoring the storm along with the state government, community partners, the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) and the TIEC.”
“We understand concerns about the potential impacts from Hurricane Florence,” Polk County Manager Marche Pittman said. “The possibility of this or other inclement weather was considered throughout planning for the World Equestrian Games.”
Pittman said in the event of a disaster, the needs of locals come first.
“Our intent would be to take care of our citizens here first because out at the facility we’re kind of in standby,” said Pittman. “That’s ultimately what we want to achieve is make sure local people understand we’re trying to watch out for them.”
The Columbus Fire Department has been monitoring the storm has well, and making preparations to respond to storm related incidents like mudslides or flooding. The department has a new drone that can be used to locate victims from the air.
“We finished up a lot of our rescue classes, we’ve ordered some new equipment,” said Columbus Fire Department Chief Tony Priester. “We’ve got nine swift-water personnel on our team – two of those being from Tryon Fire Department. We’re not a Columbus FD swift team, we’re countywide. That way we can help each other out. That’s what we’re here to do.”
Polk County still has not completely recovered from flooding rain in May, and recent rainfall left threatening conditions ahead of the storm.
“Highway 176 still concerns us so be mindful of that. There are other areas that concern us – you have Green River Cove, Holbert’s Cove Road – the one that washed out. Howard Gap road is still closed down, alot of its washed out,” said Chief Priester. “We’ve had a substantial amount of rain so the ground is saturated. The reality is we do have prone areas still and there’s probably more that will show up if we get the amount of rain that they’re talking about getting.”
He said the county’s fire departments do have plans in place for responding to emergencies at the TIEC.
“Our plan is if anything fire related happens down there, we’re going to automatically dispatch three departments so that way we have resources coming. If we don’t need them we can turn them around,” said Chief Priester. “If the storms come and we have lots and lots of people down there, we’re going to do the best we can to mitigate the situation. They just have to be patient with us.”
Given the impending forecasts, Chief Priester is advising residents to take precautions and make emergency plans for their families too.
He said residents should first of all remember the mantra, “Turn around, don’t drown,” when approaching flooded roadways.
“Six to nine inches of water will float a 900 pound car,” he said. “Your car or truck might be heavy but water will make it float because you’re on tires – tires have air in them.”
He said for people in that situation, put your windows down first and try to get out, because once your car begins floating because the electrical system will short out once its wet.
He also advised people living near bodies of water – creeks, rivers, ponds, or lakes – to monitor the water in case the levels start rising.
Click here to read more emergency preparedness tips from the American Red Cross.