Helping hands offer aide

Area emergency and public works personnel are helping clean-up efforts after Hurricane Irene ripped through sections of the North Carolina coast during the weekend.

Catawba County’s emergency services director as well as utility workers from Newton are helping restore power, remove debris and organize clean-up efforts in multiple counties near, or along, the N.C. coast.

Bryan Blanton, the county’s emergency services director, is in Hertford County acting as the planned section chief in the emergency operations center. Hertford County is in northeast North Carolina and withstood the center of the hurricane.

“There are a significant amount of trees down and power outages as well as low-lying areas that have flooded,” Blanton said, adding that he is helping track resources and helping put together an incident action plan.

Strong winds and heavy rain left 5.5 million people along the East Coast without power, including about 1 million homes or businesses in North Carolina alone, according the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

Blanton was deployed to Hertford County as part of the state’s response team. He was deployed to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina and Carteret County after Hurricane Ophelia in the past, he said. His response provides assistance in different ways.

“I think it’s sort of two-fold,” he said. “When the folks (in Hertford County) are affected, they have to take care of their families and make sure everything is OK at home. It kind of gives their staff a break.

When you are in a major event, you don’t have enough local resources, so we provide additional resources to help them out. When something happens to us, they will come help us.”

Newton public works personnel also traveled east and are helping restore power in the city of Rocky Mount. Newton received a request for assistance from its power provider, ElectriCities, on Saturday morning after the hurricane downed trees, power lines and power poles in the Rocky Mount area, said Wilce Martin, Newton Public Works and Utilities director.

Rocky Mount officials said the hurricane affected the entire city, and 26,000 customers were without power at the peak of the storm. Public Affairs Manager Megan Hinkle said wind gusts reached almost 70 mph during the storm, with sustained winds of about 50 mph. At 8:45 a.m. Monday morning, Hinkle said there were still about 8,500 customers without power.

On Monday, Rocky Mount’s 95 electric employees worked with Newton and four other crews to restore electric service, Hinkle said.

“We are pleased to be able to assist the city of Rock Mount in their time of need. That’s part of being a Public Power community,” Martin said. “If we experience an emergency, it’s comforting to know that we have electric crews across the state that could come to our aid.”

In North Carolina, more than 70 public power companies like ElectriCities serve more than 500,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers, according to Newton has been a Public Power Community since 1896.

“This is one of the benefits of being a Public Power Company,” Hinkle said. “It is nice to know that you have people who care and want to help other communities in need.