Just hours after Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for North Carolina and the state began feeling the first effects of a major snowstorm, Elizabeth City officials declared a local state of emergency as well.
The local declaration, which took effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday, came as local officials debated whether to open an emergency shelter for persons needing a place to ride out the storm, expected to dump between 6 and 12 inches of snow and sleet overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday morning.
Local officials initially said they did not plan to open a shelter. But the situation changed after forecasters began calling for sleet in the Elizabeth City area.
Christy Saunders, coordinator for Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Management, said between one and three inches of sleet was expected before the snow began falling.
One of the problems about sleet, besides making roadways dangerous to drive on, is the effect it has on power lines. The formation of ice on top of snow on tree limbs makes the limbs heavy and more prone to falling, and when tree limbs fall, they usually fall on power lines, causing outages.
With the potential for residents to be without power, a "control group" of local officials began considering the possibility of opening an emergency shelter, either at the K.E. White Center or the Knobbs Creek Recreation Center. Both have been used as shelters in the past during hurricanes. Generators can be set up at both buildings to provide enough power to keep both the lights and hot water heaters on.
The complicating factor during the current snowstorm, however, is that local governments don't have large enough generators to power up the buildings' heating systems should the power go out. With temperatures overnight expected to be 15 to 20 degrees and the high on Wednesday forecast at only 25 to 30 degrees, sheltering residents in either building would be problematic.
City Manager Rich Olson said Tuesday evening that no decision had been made about opening an emergency shelter. He said officials are forming a contingency plan which involves mutual aid agreements, but he declined to be more specific.
Local officials have partially activated an emergency operations center at the Pasquotank County Public Safety Building. The center enables local emergency, fire and law enforcement officials to work in a central location where they can keep track of weather-related developments and better coordinate responses.
Meanwhile, many area residents were hunkering down at home for the impending storm. Local grocery stores reported runs on several food staples — bread, milk and eggs. Snow-removal devices were popular as well.
“We sold out of salt yesterday,” Bobby Marchbanks, Walmart store manager, said Tuesday. “We had two pallets of snow shovels (and) ran out of those mid-day yesterday. Everybody is getting prepared for the big blizzard of 2014.”
All area school districts are closed today, after releasing students early on Tuesday.
Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools has set its makeup day for Saturday, with a two-hour early release. The Perquimans County Schools has also established Saturday as a makeup day for today’s school closings.
The Currituck County Schools has already announced plans to close school on Thursday as well.
“In anticipation of severe inclement weather, and in an effort to provide parents time to make arrangements for child care if needed, Currituck County Schools officials have decided to announce school closures for Wednesday and Thursday,” Assistant Superintendent Sandy Kinzel said in an email Tuesday.
Make-up days will be determined at a later date, Kinzel said.
All scheduled Elizabeth City State University classes and activities have been cancelled for today. Mid-Atlantic Christian University also will be closed today.
College of The Albemarle closed all campuses Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m., but had made no announcements about Wednesday classes by The Daily Advance’s early presstime Tuesday afternoon.
All sessions of court in the region are canceled Wednesday. County and city offices are also closed.
Area power companies were gearing up for the possibility of outages from the storm.
Spokeswoman Bonita Harris said Dominion N.C. Power had crews prepared to work 12-hour shifts to respond to any potential outages.
“We’ll have extra crews in areas where we expect the biggest impact,” Harris said. “We’re (also) prepared to bring in resources from other areas if needed.”
Dominion’s high-impact areas include Elizabeth City, Camden County, Outer Banks, Williamston and Ahoskie.
One of biggest concerns for electric companies are the road conditions, Harris said. Icy roads not only increase the risk of accidents, they also make it harder for Dominion crews to gain access to areas needing repairs.
Olson said the city’s response to the storm will depend on the amount of snowfall.
“We have no problem handling maybe up to four inches of snow,” he said. “When we get above four inches of snow, we run into some problems.”
The city has private contractors lined up to motor-grade streets. He also said the city’s salt and sand warehouse is full and that crews would be applying salt and sand to roadways early Tuesday.
In the event of a power outage, the following numbers may be used 24-hours-a-day:
• For customers of the city of Elizabeth City, call the city’s water treatment plant at 335-2196.
• For customers of the Albemarle Electric Membership Corporation, call 1-800-274-2072.
• For customers of Dominion Power, call 1-866-DOM-HELP.
The emergency declaration announced by McCrory allows the governor to mobilize resources needed in the storm response. The declaration also is the first step in any later state effort to seek federal funds to help defray the cost of providing emergency services, clearing debris and repairing any damage to public infrastructure.
Staff reporters William F. West and Corinne Saunders contributed to this report.