WEG officials ‘feeling pretty confident’ about emergency plans

Published 8:00 am Thursday, September 13, 2018

TIEC, FEI representatives address concerns about hurricane 

MILL SPRING — As equestrian athletes and horses from across the globe converged at Tryon International Equestrian Center for the start of the 2018 World Equestrian Games on Tuesday, many in the region had their attentions turned not toward the festivities in Mill Spring, but toward the calamity rapidly approaching from the east.

Shortly before the official opening ceremony began that evening, TIEC Chief Operating Officer Sharon Decker and Fédération Equestre Internationale Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez addressed concerns over the status of the international sporting event in light of Hurricane Florence, a Category 4 storm that meteorologists expect to strike the Carolinas late Thursday or early Friday. With the National Hurricane Center measuring winds as fast as 130 mph within the system, state and federal officials are warning residents in North and South Carolina to take caution, as the hurricane could be one of the deadliest storms to strike the East Coast in years.

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Despite the forecasts, the two WEG officials both expressed confidence that visitors, athletes and horses would be safe if heavy winds and rains from Florence roll into the local area during the games, which runs now through Sunday, Sept. 23, at TIEC.

Organizers have a robust emergency response plan in place in the event of severe weather, developed by TIEC with the assistance of local, state and federal public safety agencies, Decker said. The equestrian center has several potential safe havens — including the facility’s 300,000 square-foot covered arena and the basement of the Legends Club building — for athletes, personnel and spectators in the event that high-speed winds strike during the event, the COO said.

Horses, meanwhile, would be contained within the nearly 1,300 permanent stalls located on the property, which can withstand winds of up to 90 mph, according to TIEC.

“There are plenty of ways we can handle [the weather], and provide safe places for all,” Decker said.

Games officials will monitor weather conditions throughout the event, with the National Weather Service providing updates to organizers every six hours, Ibáñez said. In the event that thunder and lightning move within 5 miles of TIEC, officials would likely  postpone any events occurring at the time, she said.

Any tickets purchased for events that are delayed will be honored, Decker added.

“We have everything in place for all our horses and our people,” Ibáñez said. “We’re feeling pretty confident.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service Greenville-Spartanburg office’s forecasts for Polk County called for a slight chance of thunderstorms Thursday, a chance of thunderstorms on Friday, a 50 percent chance of showers on Saturday, likely showers Sunday through Monday, and likely showers and thunderstorms on Tuesday.

The agency has issued a hazardous weather condition advisory for the region through Tuesday, warning that effects from Hurricane Florence could cause heavy rainfall in the region, with residents asked to be cautious of flooding, possible landslides and damage to trees and power lines due to gusty winds.