NOAA forecast for Hurricane Irma's track as of 11 a.m. Friday.

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Emergency management officials are stepping up preparations in advance of Hurricane Irma, not taking any chances despite a recent shift westward in the track.

Governor Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency in all 100 counties as of 8 a.m. Thursday morning. The state has set up a staging area for equipment and recovery supplies in Buncombe County as one of three main sites across the state.

In an update at noon Friday, Cooper again urged caution. “We don’t want to let our guard down,” he said.

State Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said the Ashevile staging area for equipment and supplies would open on Sunday. Given the track of the storm, Sprayberry said the state was shifting resources west.

DOT officials said they were also shifting resources west in part to keep I-26 flowing. The interstate is one of three North-South evacuations routes that pass through the state.

Construction sites will shut down and lane closures will reopen statewide as of 7 p.m. tonight (Friday) to aid traffic flow.

“We prepare for the worst and pray for the best,” Henderson County Manager Steve Wyatt told Carolina Public Press on Friday.

Wyatt said the county is preparing much in the same way it would for a severe winter storm, but also anticipating that heavy rains in a short amount of time could cause flooding, especially in low-lying valleys near steep slopes.

“Based on the forecast we are looking at pre-staging some paramedic units, rescue-squad units, including water rescue units in certain areas we have identified as the most vulnerable,” he said. “These are mountainous areas where we see the potential of a concentration of water due to the topography.”

Wyatt, who declared a county state of emergency Wednesday, said he was glad to see the forecast for Irma’s route inland had shifted west from a track that had the center of the storm passing over the county on Tuesday morning.

Despite the shift, Wyatt said residents should prepare for heavy rain, wind and possible power outages and should have enough food and water on hand for 48 to 72 hours. Wyatt said the Mountain State Fair, which opens this weekend, could be affected by the storm. He said residents should keep up with the latest developments through local news and the county’s social media sites.

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“The weather is completely predictable in normal situations and this is not a normal situation,” he said. “We’re asking people to take precautions.”

The official National Hurricane Center forecast track has shifted west, but a swath of Western North Carolina from Marion to Murphy remains in the potential path of Hurricane Irma.

The hurricane was downgraded to a Category 4 overnight Friday, but is expected to restrengthen, possibly back to a Category 5, as it nears the southern tip of Florida, where it is due to make landfall early Sunday morning.

Forecasters expect the storm, currently packing sustained winds of 150 miles per hour, to follow a course east of I-75 and cross the Georgia-Tennessee border late Tuesday morning, but for now the eastern edge of the “cone of uncertainty” for Irma, the path the storm could take, runs from Gaffney, SC, to Johnson City, TN.

In its most recent update, the National Hurricane Center estimates WNC could experience 3 to 6 inches of rain as the storm passes through. At present, hurricane force winds extend 70 miles from the center of Irma and tropical storm force winds extend out 185 miles. The storm is expected to weaken considerably as it passes over land, with winds down to 35 miles per hour as it reaches WNC.

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer said given the storm’s size and the uncertainty of the track, residents should continue to prepare.

“The key at this point is to remain vigilant and follow the news,” she said. “The forecasts are changing every hour it seems and residents need to be aware of where the storm is tracking.”

Manheimer said she will consider whether to declare a state of emergency over the weekend. The declaration would allow the town access to federal help in repairing any infrastructure damage from the storm.

City of Asheville spokesperson Polly McDaniel said for the now the town is monitoring the storm forecast and putting crews on alter that they could be called in to assist with rescue and recovery.

McDaniel said the city also began releasing water from the North Fork Dam last week in anticipation of heavy rainfall.

The region’s universities, which have substantial numbers of students and faculty commuting along narrow mountain roads that susceptible to landslides and through valleys that could be threatened by flooding, are also keeping an eye on the system.

“Western Carolina University Emergency Services has been monitoring Hurricane Irma and its potential impact on the university,” WCU Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar said in a statement Thursday. “At this point, it is too early to tell what, if any, effects may occur as a result of Hurricane Irma. Any potential effects will become clearer as we move through the weekend.

“If Hurricane Irma were to affect Western Carolina University, we will follow the University’s Adverse Weather Policy (Policy # 41) to make determinations on class and work schedules.  At this point, there is no plan to suspend classes unless there is an imminent threat to the safety of students, staff, and faculty on campus.All updates will be posted to the WCU Weather-Related Announcements website at:  http://news-prod.wcu.edu/weather-announcements/.”

Statewide Preparedness links

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ReadyNC — Official state emergency preparedness site
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On Twitter @NCEmergency

Red Cross
• Red Cross Survival Kit advice
• Mobile App Page — includes Pet Assistance Mobile App

Kirk Ross

Based in the Triangle, Kirk Ross is the capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at kross@carolinapublicpress.org.

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