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Isaias Keeps Emergency Workers Busy In North Carolina


Hurricane Isaias is dumping heavy rain in the Carolinas. After making landfall near Ocean Isle Beach in North Carolina overnight, it was downgraded to a tropical storm. And that storm is now moving north, where the forecast is flooding and possibly even some tornadoes. Edward Conrow is on the line with me now. He's the emergency services director for Brunswick County in North Carolina. That includes Ocean Isle Beach. Good morning, sir.

EDWARD CONROW: Good morning, ma'am. How you doing today?

KING: I'm doing well. How are you? Did you get any sleep last night?

CONROW: No, we haven't got any sleep. We've had a very busy night starting off from, you know, early evening all the way through this morning.

KING: What was the storm like?

CONROW: It came onshore. Before coming onshore, it spawned several tornadoes that impacted our county, particularly Bald Head Island, which is a remote island only accessible by ferry with several thousand people on it. We've had tornadoes in our Leland area and other parts of our county. We actually had one possibly pass right by our emergency operations center. And then we were hit with the hurricane-force winds. It made landfall on Ocean Isle as a hurricane, pushed significant storm surge into Oak Island and some of our communities, resulting in a lot of damage. We had numerous homes burned.

We have some rescues that went under way early this morning - the dark hours. And we currently have some we're working on now. Really waiting for the sun to come up, so we get a picture of what's going on. We've got damage spread throughout our whole county. And we're getting some air assets in to fly the county. Put some resources in the field, and do some searches, and try making sure everyone's safe.

KING: You mentioned some rescues that are underway. What's happening there?

CONROW: We - several homes, particularly in Oak Island, that got hit with storm surge, that are damaged. They're flooded still. We're having a hard time getting to them. We've had to go in with swift water rescue teams, our sheriff's office and get people out and put them in shelter. But we're currently working on several homes that we have people occupied in that are damaged. We're having a hard time getting to them. So we're trying to figure out the best rescue plan to get the people out safely.

KING: Have you had any casualties that you know of?

CONROW: None at this time.

KING: OK, that's some good news.

CONROW: Yes, it is. Yes, it is.

KING: North Carolina is not unfamiliar with hurricane season. You guys have been through this before. Right now, though, we are also in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. What does that mean for your operations and your response?

CONROW: As far as our operations, the impact of our shelter operations is really limited to the amount of people we can put in shelters safely. We have isolation areas wearing PPE and then protecting our responders that are out in the field making sure they're protected with PPE and then the public as we're protecting them.

KING: How many people do you have in shelters?

CONROW: At this time, we probably have over 30 or 40, but we expect it to drastically increase as the day goes on due to some of the damage and as we do further evaluations.

KING: And I imagine the calculus you're doing is if people need emergency shelter, you've got to give them emergency shelter, but you're also going to want them probably 6 feet apart, wearing masks if possible.

CONROW: Yes. Yes. We're making every attempt to keep them 6 feet apart. Anybody that's not feeling well, we isolate them in a separate area, wearing masks. But we're going to do what we have to do to protect people and make sure they're safe and do that as safely as possible.

KING: So as we head into early daylight here, what does the day ahead look like for you? What's the first thing - first couple things that you need to get done?

CONROW: We've been coordinating with our partners in North Carolina Emergency Management to get some resources in and mobilize some resources in the field to kind of do some damage assessment, get a little better picture to daylight. We've been coordinated with Bald Head Island, trying to see what kind of damage they have over there related to the hurricane and tornadoes. And then one of our big steps - we're trying to get some air assets in, so we can fly our county and get a better picture of what kind of damage we have and what other different resources - we have ordered up several resources from the state to come in. And we're expecting them to come in to support us hopefully any time in the next couple hours.

KING: All right. Well, we wish you luck.

CONROW: Thank you, ma'am.

KING: Edward Conrow, emergency services director for Brunswick County. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.