Planning for the worst, hoping for the best

Published 8:00 am Friday, September 14, 2018

Polk, Tryon declare states of emergency ahead of Florence

TRYON — Thousands of people being in the area for the World Equestrian Games and a large hurricane looming on the coast could create the perfect storm for Polk County.

Hurricane Florence is expected to hit the coasts of North and South Carolina Friday, which could bring heavy rains and winds to the Foothills area by Sunday.

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Polk County declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, and the Tryon Town Council met Thursday morning to also declare a state of emergency, just in case.

Flooding and mudslides are not too far off in memory for local officials to remember some lessons and what could happen in this area when heavy rains hit.

“We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” said Polk County Manager Marche Pittman.

As of late Wednesday, predictions from the National Weather Service were that Polk County could see 6 to 8 inches of rain and 20 to 30 mph winds from the storm, with up to 40 mph wind gusts.

“That’s today, though,” Pittman said. “Predictions are changing every day, but 6 to 8 inches of rain is a lot.”

Heavy rains in May from a hurricane caused mudslides and three deaths in the Pacolet Valley of Tryon. The area received an estimated more than 20 inches of rain in two weeks of May, and geologists later came in and said there were areas of the mountains that are not stable.

The Tryon Town Council held a special meeting Thursday morning and approved declaring a state of emergency. Declaring a state of emergency is necessary if damage is done to areas in order to receive state and federal funding, if needed.

Tryon, Polk County, Columbus and Saluda have taken steps this week in case damage occurs.

Tryon Town Manager Zach Ollis said public works crews have filled every vehicle with fuel, have secured extra gas, oil and grease for heavy equipment, and purchased new chains for chain saws, gear oil and replacement parts in case they are needed.

“I have instructed certain public works crew members to take town trucks and chain saws home with them starting [Thursday],” Ollis said. “They will keep the trucks throughout the storm so that they can come in at any time.”

The town police department is prepared with fuel, as well the fire department.

Ollis said the fire department checked all its vehicles on Wednesday, did inventory and tested all rescue equipment and gear. The fire department also established a rescue plan with members assigned to teams and quadrants, Ollis said.

“We have also pulled maps from the mudslide and issued them to the fire department,” Ollis said. “We are doing our best to ensure we are prepared for anything that occurs in the valley.”

During the storm, Tryon will have two extra firefighters on staff, who are both swift water rescue certified. The town is also staying in contact with the forest service in case they are needed.

Pittman said county departments met Thursday to put plans together in case severe weather arrives.

“We’ve made it clear to [Tryon International Equestrian Center] our citizens are our top priority,” said Pittman.

Pittman also said some valuable lessons were learned during the mudslides in May and, if county departments have to respond again, they are now more prepared.

Because of the World Equestrian Games, and a $1 million grant awarded from the state of North Carolina, Polk County is more prepared now than ever, as the funding is paying for departments to have extra staff the next couple of weeks.

Hurricane Florence had weakened to a Category 2 hurricane on Thursday from a previous Category 4 storm. It is expected to hit the coast around Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. and Wilmington, North Carolina, sometime Friday, go south, then west toward the Foothills sometime on Sunday, when it should be weakened to a tropical storm. For storm updates, check