North Carolina’s goal under the threat of a major hurricane was to be “overprepared and underwhelmed,” Gov. Pat McCrory said last week.
The very same can be said for officials in Bladen County.
From Bradley Kinlaw, the county emergency services director, to local mayors to school officials to fire department/EMS/rescue personnel and many more, Hurricane Matthew was handled as well as could possibley have been expected.
State and local governments got in front of this storm. McCrory declared a pre-emptive state of emergency in 66 counties. National Guard units, the State Highway Patrol and other agencies were ready to go. UNC-Wilmington decided to evacuate its campus Thursday and cancel Friday classes. Local evacuations were ordered for Ocracoke and Bald Head islands. The Greensboro Fire Department sent members of its Swiftwater Rescue Team to Martin County to help if needed. High Point is ready to send utility crews to restore power in stricken areas. There were many other examples of precautions taken and assistance offered.
Coastal residents in Florida and Georgia fled inland Thursday as the hurricane strengthened. In South Carolina, an evacuation of Charleston and coastal communities was launched. It was a major operation, backing up traffic for hours on Interstate 26 until the state initiated an emergency plan that included reversing the highway’s eastbound lanes, doubling the route’s capacity.
In North Carolina, getting people off islands accessible only by ferry — such as Ocracoke and Bald Head — as well as barrier islands reached by two-lane bridges poses challenges. The process began early enough to make sure the job could be accomplished.
Acting early creates the possibility that costly precautions turn out to be unnecessary. Hurricanes change their track. When they turn away, everyone can relax. If they don’t, people need to heed early warnings and get out of the way — especially when a hurricane carries as much deadly power as this one. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Hurricane forecasting is improving but not perfect. Yet, advanced warnings can save lives if they trigger a prompt response.
The governor and other state and local leaders were on top of Hurricane Matthew developments from early this week on. McCrory has given regular public briefings and directed appropriate preparations. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis asked for federal help, just in case it was needed. This is how government, often maligned, should operate — with purpose, foresight, application of necessary resources and openness. Those elements aren’t always seen.
With this crisis apparently averted, North Carolina can’t fail to plan for the next time and the next. There will be more storms, which will threaten homes, businesses, roads, utilities, ports, other infrastructure and the natural features of our coast.
With so much value in low-lying areas of eastern North Carolina, planners must think about how the impacts of powerful future storms can be minimized. People can be evacuated, but property can’t be. How can land and infrastructure best be protected so that losses won’t be overwhelming? Our state is perhaps more vulnerable than ever to natural disasters because of climate change, sea-level rise and more dangerous storms. Will we have the foresight to be overprepared and underwhelmed in the decades to come?
— Greensboro News & Record