Emergency managers across Virginia have been watching forecasts.
In the Roanoke Valley, they’re encouraging residents to make preparations to be self-sufficient for 72 hours. They’re also asking for cooperation from the public.
First responders, public works officials and hospital system spokespeople from across the Roanoke Valley briefed the public and media Tuesday morning. Their message was clear: Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.
Public Works crews have been clearing Roanoke’s storm drains in advance of Florence. But with 9,500 of them in the city alone, stormwater manager Dwayne D'Ardenne is happy to have help. "If you know of one in front of your property that needs to be cleaned with a shovel or a rake or a broom, certainly feel free to go out and clean that," D'Ardenne suggested.
Once the storm starts, Roanoke Fire-EMS Chief David Hoback says it’s important to use 9-1-1 for emergencies only. "Historically, they call us for power outages, they call us for stuff that’s not really emergencies," Hoback noted. "And that really will be a lifesaver for us to keep our apparatus in service."
Call your power company to report outages. An Appalachian Power spokeswoman said the company is concerned about the potential for widespread, long-lasting power outages. She said all of the company’s employees are on standby. Dominion Energy says it has positioned personnel and equipment around its service area for what could be a multi-day storm.
If power outages do materialize, many people will rely on generators, which can also be a danger if they’re not used correctly according to Chief Hoback. "Do not put it in your basement. Do not put it on your back porch with the back door open. We have had when we had the derecho event people that were overcome with carbon monoxide," referring to the 2012 summertime storm that knocked out power to tens of thousands of customers in western Virginia.
Dwayne D'Ardenne also looked to the historical record to address concern about potential flooding in downtown Roanoke. He noted that three flash floods in the downtown area in 2016 were caused by extreme thunderstorm events. "One of which was 2.24 inches of rain in 50 minutes. That's less than an hour," he reinforced. "What most folks don't remember about 2016 is that we had the remants of Hurricane Matthew that dropped five-and-a-quarter inches of rain in 36 hours. We didn't have any flooding downtown as a result of that flood event," D'Ardenne remembered.
D'Ardenne noted that the Flood of 1985, considered the "flood of record" in the Roanoke Valley, was spawned by a week of rain followed by a deluge of 6.6 inches of rain in 24 hours. Since that time, a flood reduction effort has been completed on the Roanoke River and more than 100 flood prone properties have been removed.
A spokesman for Carilion, which operates Roanoke Memorial Hospital and other medical facilities along the Roanoke River, said it will put up its temporary flood wall later in the week. A spokesperson for LewisGale Medical Center said it has emergency teams and supplies depoloyed to all of its hospitals in Western Virginia.
Roanoke's police chief encouraged people to exercize good sense-- don't drive through flooded roads or bridges and don’t treat high and fast-moving water as an opportunity to canoe or kayak. "Please don’t be that person," Chief Tim Jones pleaded. "Don’t put fire, ems, police officers lives in jeopardy because you failed to use good, sound reasonable judgement."
Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea praised the regional cooperation being exercised ahead of the storm. And he said it’s just as important to have citizens willing to follow the instructions of first responders.