FEMA stands ready to address the aftermath of Hurricane Florence and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has now issued a “Regional Emergency Declaration” for 13 states and the District of Columbia as the southeast braces for the historic storm.
The latest guidance has Florence coming ashore along the North Carolina coast, perhaps with 130 mph winds, and then drifting south down into South Carolina. Steve Goldstein, NOAA liaison to FEMA, said in a press briefing this morning that the storm is likely to come ashore late Thursday or Friday, but tropical storm force winds will be felt inland during the day on Thursday due to the size of Florence. At its widest point, the storm stretches some 540 miles across.
Goldstein said the concern is for widespread flooding and flash floods that could last into next week in the affected areas.
“Once the storm moves inland, the flooding effects are extreme with 15 inches or more of rain and in some cases up to 40 inches,” he said.
Jon Porter, vice president of business services and general manager of Enterprise Solutions for AccuWeather, told FreightWaves, that rail and truck traffic could be disrupted for some time as flooding and heavy rains persist, damaging infrastructure.
“We’re concerned that rail infrastructure tracks may be washed out or completely destroyed by flooding,” Porter said. “We know from dealing with previous tropical systems that you can have scenarios where rail infrastructure can get flooded and as soon as it’s flooded it’s not able to be operated on until it’s inspected.”
Goldstein noted that the effects of Florence will be felt quite a ways from the center, as tropical storm force winds extend out some 175 miles and will persist for 24 hours or more as the storm stalls.
Jeff Byard, associate administrator for response and recovery for FEMA, advised residents to heed warnings and evacuate.
“This is a very dangerous storm and it’s going to impact many of our citizens in multiple states,” he said. “Heed the warnings. Today’s the day.”
Byard added that FEMA, which has come under criticism for its response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico as well as for Hurricane Harvey in Houston last year, stands ready and able to respond to restore services following the storm.
“We have plenty of resources to respond, plenty of resources to recover,” he said.
“It’s going to be large. As far as our disaster relief fund, it’s healthy. … as to the exact extend of the [damage] we can’t say at this time,” Byard added. “What I can say is that there will be disruptions to our services, infrastructure will be lost, homes will be lost … It’s called a disaster for a reason. There is going to be damage, infrastructure is going to be destroyed, the power is going to be out… we’ve got to stabilize the lifelines that our communities expect and then we can turn to long-term recovery and that’s what we’re going to do.”
FMCSA’s Regional Emergency Declaration provides motor carriers an exemption from Parts 390 through 399 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).
The declaration applies to carriers operating in: Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
“This Emergency Declaration is needed to address anticipated emergency conditions in the Affected States and jurisdictions creating a need for immediate transportation of supplies, equipment and persons, and provides necessary relief,” FMCSA said in a statement.
Under terms of the declaration, motor carriers and drivers providing direct assistance to the emergency in the “affected states and jurisdictions in direct support of relief efforts related to Hurricane Florence are granted emergency [regulatory] relief from Parts 390 through 399 of Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations.”
Once their direct assistance ends, they are again subject to all federal regulations.