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With power back on, life begins returning to normal

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A worker with Best Brothers Tree Service is seen Saturday afternoon using a chain saw to cut parts of a tree that fell across utility lines and across the road on Riverside Avenue as Hurricane Dorian passed over the area on Friday. A city utility truck (right) was called in to assist the Best Brothers crew.

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By Reggie Ponder and Julian Eure
Staff Writers

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Life began returning to normal for most Elizabeth City residents on Saturday, as floodwaters from Hurricane Dorian receded, knocked-down trees were removed, and, most importantly, power was restored to all city electricity customers by late afternoon.

City Manager Rich Olson said city crews were able to restore power to the remaining customers without it by 4:30 p.m. About half the city’s 12,000 customers were without power on Friday.

Elsewhere, Hertford-based Albemarle Electric Membership Corp. also completed its power restoration efforts early Saturday morning. More than 4,000 members of the power co-operative were without power at the height of the storm, but all members had their power restored by 10 a.m., according to Chris Powell, a AEMC spokesman.

Dominion Energy was still reporting significant outages Saturday, however. That included about 88 customers in Pasquotank and 1,207 in Camden. Most of the areas in Camden still without power Saturday night were in the Shiloh area at the southern end of the county.

Even though most of Dorian’s floodwaters had receded by Saturday afternoon, there were still a few city streets that were impassible except with “high-profile” vehicles, Olson said. He mentioned Church Street Extended and Providence Road as two that remained hard to navigate.

Providence Road is the entrance road to the flood-prone Oxford Heights neighborhood. Local emergency management officials ordered a mandatory evacuation of the neighborhood ahead of Dorian’s arrival on Thursday. Olson said about 40 percent of the residents in the 104-home subdivision evacuated prior to the storm.

Olson said the back gate to Oxford Heights, allowing those residents who stayed to exit, remains open and the detour to Halstead Boulevard Extended remains in place.

Christy Saunders, Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Management coordinator, said her office has not received any reports of substantial damage from Dorian. Aside from roof damage from falling trees and siding and roof shingles blown off homes, Saunders said the most significant report she received was of a camper that was destroyed by a falling tree. She said the occupant fortunately wasn’t in the camper at the time; he had sought shelter in a house on the property.

She described damages from Dorian as “minimum to moderate.”

“We had many trees down and flooding on roads but no reports of floodwaters going into houses,” she said.

Saunders said Dorian’s shifting to the east as it passed over the region had helped. While the storm brought a lot of rain, it didn’t bring as much as forecasters had originally projected. She estimated the storm dumped around 7 inches in the southern areas of Pasquotank and Camden about 4 inches in other areas.

Saunders said the only roads in Pasquotank still flooded in spots were Main Street Extended, Church Street Extended and Creek Road. She said city officials have erected a barrier to block vehicles from trying to access Church Street Extended.

In Camden, the roads that were still flooded in spots Saturday included One Mill Road, Trotman Road, Perkins Road, McKinley Road, she said.

In Elizabeth City, crews will continue working today to clear debris from city streets, Olson said. He advised residents who want the city to remove debris to place it curbside for pickup early next week.

Local residents also removed a lot of debris from the storm.

Brad Gardner, Pasquotank’s solid waste director, said that between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., the county landfill had accepted 303 tons of debris, most of it “vegetative” debris like tree limbs. On a typical Saturday, the landfill would receive only about 25-50 tons of waste and debris, he said.

At one point, roughly between 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., traffic waiting to get into the landfill was backed up to Simpson Ditch Road, Gardner said.

Each convenience site in the county also saw roughly 250 people dropping off debris and other items on Saturday, Gardner said. That compares with about 100 to 150 on a typical Saturday.

A lot of the extra traffic was coming from Elizabeth City residents who were dumping their garbage because the city suspended its curbside service on Friday because of the storm.

Gardner said the landfill will be closed today but the county’s convenience sites will be open regular hours from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Gardner noted that while the county can’t waive tipping fees for waste hauled to the landfill, it doesn’t charge anything for the first 1,000 pounds a resident brings.

Sherry Gaskins was among the residents clearing debris on Saturday. She was helping her mother, Shirley Sawyer, 84, clean up debris in her yard on Edgewood Drive.

“I’ve been living here 56 years,” Sawyer said. “I’ve been through tornadoes and lots of hurricanes.”

In the worst cases the power has been out for as long as two weeks or more, she said.

“The Lord blessed me because we had lights all night (Thursday) and only were out for 12 hours — and not two or three weeks life before,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer said someone driving by Saturday morning stopped to help her clean up debris and then her daughter arrived just a bit after that.

“I’m not supposed to be doing anything but I am,” Sawyer said.

Thelma Brooks of Massachusetts Avenue said a tree fell on her roof around 8:30 a.m. Friday.

She said she has been in the house for 14 years and hopes to be able to remain there. Her landlord has come and looked at the damage and is working quickly to get it repaired, she said.

“They’re working as fast as they can to get it fixed,” Brooks said. “I know it is going to take some time.”

Brooks said her car was parked next to the house and if the tree had fallen in a different direction it could have destroyed her car.

“If it had come from another direction it could have crushed my car because I had my car sitting right by my house,” she said.

Brooks said she understands there is nothing you can do when a tree falls during a windstorm.

“It is what it is,” Brooks said. “You can’t fight nature.”

Olson said the state of emergency declared in Elizabeth City will remain in effect until Monday morning. He said the city still wants access to the powers the declaration provides to respond to flooding or other storm-related issues.

The emergency shelter operated by the American Red Cross at the K.E. White Center closed at noon on Saturday. Seventy-five people stayed at the shelter Friday night, Olson said.

Jim Wolfe, the Red Cross volunteer shelter manager, said about six Ocracoke residents were brought to the shelter Friday night but they did not stay because they were able to connect with family members who live in the area. The U.S. Coast Guard had transported the Ocracoke residents to Elizabeth City from the island, which was devastated by flooding from Dorian.

One elderly gentleman from Ocracoke was brought to the shelter from the hospital and spent the night, according to Wolfe. The man initially was very upset and worried, Wolfe said.

But Wolfe added: “By the time we got through laughing and talking and joking he was OK.”

Red Cross volunteers came from across the country to help staff the Elizabeth City shelter, Wolfe said. Wolfe is from the Knoxville, Tennessee area.

“When something happens, our leaders call and say, ‘are you available?’” Wolfe said. “We’re always happy to go wherever.”

Wolfe left Elizabeth City around noon Saturday and was traveling to Greenville, where he would receive his next assignment.

He said he wasn’t sure where he would be going but thought it might be to Florida, where many people are arriving from the Bahamas, which was devastated by Dorian when it was a Category 5 storm.

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