Mayor Of New Bern, N.C., Discusses How The Town Is Preparing For Hurricane Michael

19 hours ago
Originally published on October 10, 2018 7:03 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle today with winds upwards of 150 miles per hour. The storm is expected to plow northward through Georgia and the Carolinas and drench some places still reeling from Hurricane Florence, places such as New Bern, N.C. We interviewed Dana Outlaw - he's the mayor of New Bern - on September 14 - so not even a month ago - as floodwaters from Florence swamped his city.

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DANA OUTLAW: We have had 1,200 911 requests for the last 12 hours. That's very unusual.

KELLY: And we have called Mayor Outlaw back to ask about how the cleanup effort's gone and how they're bracing for this next hurricane. Mayor Outlaw, good to have you with us.

OUTLAW: Thank you. We have still a lot of debris down. We picked up about 35 percent. What we're trying to do right now is just stabilize the debris that we have not picked up so that in the event of a 20-to-40-mile-per-hour wind, that this debris material will stay put and not scatter.

KELLY: Well, let me back you up because when we talked to you not quite four weeks ago with Florence, you had asked people to evacuate. You actually were telling us about firefighters out on fire trucks telling people to, you know, leave, get somewhere safe. How about this time? Are you all looking to evacuate or telling people to stay safe, stay put?

OUTLAW: We're on standby. We have an emergency operation center that we have not activated. We have 41 trucks picking up debris as quickly as we can. We have nine cities and towns across the state that are helping us with that effort. We just - you know, we're all in prayer for our friends down in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina that this thing will not be anything like the impact that we had. Of course, ours was a storm surge, and this appears to be more of a high wind hurricane.

KELLY: Because it will have weakened by the time it hits you, we hope. When you say you've got people out picking up debris, you're talking about debris still left from Hurricane Florence or are you talking about stuff that's come down newly since then with wind?

OUTLAW: Well, it's kind of, like, in phases. We - the initial debris from the shock of what happened and now folks are getting in, getting the insulation out from underneath their homes.

KELLY: Yeah.

OUTLAW: They're finding out that their heat pumps and HVA systems have been compromised - the duct work. And so, you know, sheet rock and all the components of the home - you know, we just - after careful inspection by our inspection department, in many instances, we've found that there's a lot more detail to what has to be done than what we initially thought.

KELLY: You've still got a lot of buildings there, houses, businesses, et cetera, with tarps up for roofs after Hurricane Florence, is that right?

OUTLAW: We still have 700 homes of 22,000 that we cannot repower because the electric components were compromised during the storm event. And so we are working as hard as we can with the owners to get licensed contractors, electrical contractors, to come in and correct those problems so that we can repower the home.

KELLY: And then I was reading some schools had reopened. The rest of the Craven County schools that had been shut since Hurricane Florence were set to reopen this week. Did they?

OUTLAW: Some of them did, but some of them still are not opening. We actually had five different shelters with 1,200 citizens, and now that's down to about a hundred at our West New Bern Rec Center. We have two large rec centers in New Bern. One of them had two feet of water in it. So we're just everywhere you look from power being down - all 22,000 customers had power down. We're continuing to put our city back together.

KELLY: This must just feel like adding insult to injury to have another big storm headed your way.

OUTLAW: Yeah, but, you know, if you look at - 30 percent of the population of the United States lives within - what? - 50 miles of the coast. They love it. We love it. It's the quality of life that doesn't get any better. And, you know, we just really can't thank America enough for what they've been doing for us. And we, in turn, are working with our sister towns and cities around New Bern - Jones County, Pamlico County...

KELLY: Right.

OUTLAW: Just try to help them get back together.

KELLY: Well, Mayor Dana Outlaw of New Bern, N.C., we wish you good luck and stay safe.

OUTLAW: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.