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Emergency crews prep for Isabel

September 17, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

As Hurricane Isabel continues to move on a path that could bring high winds and rain to Washington County by Friday morning, emergency officials ask residents to prepare not only for power outages and other weather-related problems, but for the possibility that emergency personnel will be busy and unable to respond immediately to some situations.

Officials suggest that residents begin taking precautions soon. Washington County Emergency Services Director Joe Kroboth said those precautions include preparing a home disaster kit, keeping track of family schedules in case of an emergency, making lists of personal items for insurance purposes and securing property such as lawn furniture and other outdoor items.

"Without a doubt, our fire and emergency service system will be taxed to its limits," Kroboth said after a meeting of emergency officials Tuesday.

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More than 40 fire, police and local government officials Tuesday afternoon discussed the resources available to deal with the storm that might still be at hurricane strength Friday morning when it is expected to sweep through the area.

Kroboth said he expected the 911 phone lines to be busy and firefighters and rescue personnel to be overwhelmed with calls about flooded homes.

He said residents should stay updated on the news in case an evacuation order is issued.

Fire officials said they were worried about the high number of expected emergency calls, and asked that people be patient.

"It's a very big concern," said Bob Daley, assistant fire chief at Maugansville Goodwill Volunteer Fire Department. Daley said his department has bought extra home water pumps, but they probably won't have enough to handle problems associated with the storm.

"We will try to do what we can," Daley said, but "we may not have the time to do every routine flooding call 'right now.' It's just going to be very difficult."

William Ball, chief at the Williamsport Fire Co., said his biggest concern is the amount of rain expected. He said his department will put storm information on its Web site to try to better inform residents about where flooding is the most serious and how long residents may have to wait for emergency responses.

The fire company's Web address is www.williamsportfire.org.

"We might just get a drop of rain, but if not, we're prepared," Ball said.

Gary Rohrer, county public works director, said he remembers when Hurricane Agnes hit in 1972, when he was working as an engineer in the county.

"It was very frightening as a young engineer," he said.

Based on that experience, Rohrer said, he expects not only flooding, which can threaten water treatment plants, but wind to bring down trees, which will affect roadways and power lines.

Kroboth said officials planned to meet again today, and as the storm approached, possibly every six hours. He said his department had been in contact with state and federal emergency agencies in preparation for Isabel.

"We're staring down a pipe at this thing," he said. "We need to be prepared and ready to go."

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