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Desktop drill helps ready WV emergency personnel for Florence's arrival

As dozens of emergency response personnel gathered in Kanawha County’s Metro 911 Center on Wednesday to hold a drill on planning for the arrival of 5 to 9 inches of rainfall from the remnants of a fictional tropical storm, they listened to the latest briefing on the arrival of the very real Hurricane Florence.

Florence’s arrival track has shifted a bit to the south of its previously predicted landfall, meaning that storm’s remnants should arrive in West Virginia later than expected, according to the National Weather Service’s Emergency Manager’s Brief for West Virginia.

The storm is now not expected to sweep into West Virginia until Sunday or Monday, bringing with it widespread rainfall in the 2- to 4-inch range, with slightly higher amounts possible in the extreme southeastern portion of the state. High winds are expected to be a threat only in the state’s higher southern mountains, where gusts of 40 to 50 miles per hour are deemed possible.

With ground already saturated from the last gasps of Tropical Storm Gordon and weekend thunderstorms, “significant flood impacts” are possible, with the state’s eastern mountains facing the greatest high-water threat, according to the briefing. The expected new rain falling atop already muddy slopes could trigger road-blocking landslides and cause trees to topple across power lines, causing outages.

Isolated tornadoes are deemed a limited threat with Florence’s arrival, according the the briefing.

The Emergency Manager’s Brief sketched a storm scenario milder than the one produced by “Post Tropical Storm Hortense,” the mock storm that was the subject of Wednesday’s table-top drill at Metro 911, in which heavy rain was predicted to push the Kanawha River 1 foot above flood stage.

But Hurricane Florence’s remnants could still have fatal consequences in West Virginia, particularly if emergency responders are not adequately prepared or the public fails to keep track of weather reports, heed emergency warnings or take basic precautions, said C.W. Sigman, Kanawha County’s Homeland Security director.

“I don’t advocate people going out to the store and buying mass quantities of stuff,” Sigman said. “But people should have enough supplies on hand to make it through a couple of days of being trapped in.”

Residents should make sure their medications are easily accessible, along with flashlights, drinking water and nonperishable food, he said.

Wednesday’s drill involved personnel from Metro 911, area fire departments, utility companies, the National Weather Service, police officers from city, county and state agencies, KRTA, the state Department of Transportation, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, the American Red Cross and area hospitals.

“It gives us a chance to start thinking seriously about planning for Florence and lets us get reacquainted with people we’ve worked with in previous emergencies,” Sigman said.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, 50 West Virginia Army National Guard soldiers were staged at locations across the state to prepare for emergency operations. An additional 13 were deployed to the National Guard Coordination Center for South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, where they will help coordinate fulfilling National Guard units’ needs in responding to the hurricane.

At the 167th Airlift Wing, in Martinsburg, 20 West Virginia Air Guard personnel were processing 70 FEMA tractor-trailer-loads of water, food, tents, cots, blankets and fuel for distribution as needed following Florence’s landfall.

State Department of Transportation workers were reducing the size of construction zones to free-up as much roadway as possible on Interstate 77, a main route expected to be used by northbound hurricane evacuees.

At the direction of Gov. Jim Justice, West Virginia state parks are offering 55 percent discounts on lodging and campground space to hurricane evacuees. Department of Environmental Protection Dam Safety inspectors were calling all dam owners in the state to have them make sure spillways are operating at capacity and debris racks are clear.

Five ambulances and a team of 11 emergency medical personnel from Kanawha County EMS, Logan County EMS and Jan-Care Ambulance were deployed to Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, for staging for hurricane relief. A team of 12 people and five ambulances from Kanawha County EMS departed for storm duty in Wake County, North Carolina.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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Funerals for Thursday, August 22, 2019

Booth, Paul - 2 p.m., Bartlett-Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Cummings, David - 1 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.

Gregor, Kathy - 5 p.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.

Lore, Madge - 11 a.m., Cunningham Memorial Park, St. Albans.

Sanders, Wetzel - 2 p.m., McGhee-Handley Funeral Home, West Hamlin.

Stalnaker, Lillian - 11 a.m., Little Kanawha Memorial Gardens, Flatwoods.