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Governors Declare States of Emergency as Ida Threatens

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia declared a state of emergency in response to Tropical Depression Ida, which was expected to cause heavy rains and flooding along the I-81 and I-66 corridors.

Hurricane
(TNS) -Two governors declared states of emergency Tuesday as Tropical Depression Ida carried the threat of between 2 to 4 inches of rain with potential flash flooding and high winds to both states.

The heaviest rain delivered by Ida was expected to fall between 10 p.m. Tuesday and just before dawn today, according to meteorologist Vance Joyner with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va. , Between 2 to 5 inches of rain were possible.

"And if one of the stronger bands gets stuck over an area, there could be localized amounts of 5 to 6 inches," he said.

The weather service received reports of a tornado touching down before 8 p.m. Tuesday near Blacksburg, Va. , but forecasters said they had not yet pinpointed where it arrived nor confirmed it was a tornado. The area would have to be surveyed first to make a determination.

A second possible tornado was later reported in west central Montgomery County, Va. , according to meteorologist Ben Gruver . A warning was issued, but there was no confirmation it had touched down.

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia declared a state of emergency in response to Tropical Depression Ida, which was expected to cause heavy rains and flooding along the I-81 and I-66 corridors. Localities in the southwest region have already experienced heavy rainfall in recent days, leading to flash floods and complicating storm preparation efforts. In addition to the flood threat, there is also a risk of tornadoes across the Commonwealth late Tuesday night through Wednesday.

"My thoughts are with those across the country impacted by this devastating storm," Northam said. "While we're fortunate in Virginia to have avoided the hurricane itself, heavy rainfall is expected to cause additional flash flooding and dangerous conditions in portions of the Commonwealth. I'm grateful to the first responders and rescue crews currently on the ground, and I urge Virginians in these regions to stay alert."

Severe weather began hitting parts of Southwest Virginia on Monday and was expected to continue as remnants of Ida arrived in the Commonwealth. Heavy rainfall had already caused flash flooding in Buchanan County with potential for additional flooding, downed trees, electrical outages, and impacts to roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Impacts were expected to be felt particularly along the I-81 and I-66 corridors.

A state of emergency allows the Commonwealth to mobilize resources and to deploy people and equipment to assist in response and recovery efforts, state officials said. The declaration also allows officials from Virginia to coordinate planning and evacuation resources with state and local partners. This action does not apply to individuals or private businesses.

In West Virginia , Gov. Jim Justice declared a State of Emergency for all 55 counties due to the increasing threat of flash flooding and severe storms. The West Virginia National Guard was preparing for possible deployment.

"We are currently deep into planning and bringing online personnel, equipment and additional assets that are typically in high-demand during flood events," stated Lt. Col. Walter "Wally" Hatfield , Director of Operations. "With Ida posing a risk to the entire state, we are working closely in support of the West Virginia Emergency Management Division to stand up a whole-of-government response. Coordinating with the State Emergency Operations Center , multiple Community Assistance Teams and Liaison Teams of Guard personnel are being strategically positioned throughout the state to assume a proactive posture providing assistance to local communities as quickly as possible should we be called on to do so."

" Gov. Justice has initially authorized State Active Duty status for up to 60 Guardsmen, and we are ready to activate as many as is needed should conditions deteriorate rapidly," Hatfield said. "Our top priority is always the safety and survival of our fellow West Virginians, and we will do everything we can to meet any challenge Mother Nature might throw at us in the next 72 to 96 hours."

Locally, preparations were being made for possible flooding.

"I've been dealing with it since yesterday," Mercer County Emergency Management and Floodplain Director Keith Gunnoe said Tuesday afternoon.

Gunnoe and other emergency officials had a briefing Tuesday with the Charleston and Blacksburg, Va. offices of the National Weather Service . Between 2 to 4 inches of rain was expected in West Virginia . Forecasters believed that much of it would fall in the northern counties along the Ohio River .

Heavy rain is expected in southern West Virginia as well.

"They're expecting 2 to 4 inches here," Gunnoe said. "It's expected to get heavier as the night progresses into (Wednesday) morning."

Gunnoe said that he had checked local streams and creeks, and found that they were still "fairly low" due to the recent dry weather.

A wind advisory was issued for Mercer County as well as a flood watch. Winds with gusts of 20 to 30 mph were expected in the county's higher areas. Gunnoe said he was "a little concerned" about possible power outages due to fallen trees.

Gunnoe said he had put a plan into place to open an emergency shelter if necessary, and had coordinated with Mercer County 911 and the county's fire departments in the event that people are displaced by flooding.

"The 911 center will notify me any time during the night and a shelter will be opened," Gunnoe said. The shelter's location will be announced on social media and fire departments will either tell people where to go or assist them if needed, he added.

In McDowell County , a steady rain was reported after 8 p.m. The Rev. Tim Hairston of Upland, who lives near a tributary to Elkhorn Creek , said he was watching the situation, but had not seen any signs of high water at that time.

Emergency Management staff in West Virginia will operate the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) on 12-hour shifts, with coordinating agencies on standby, state officials said. The SEOC will monitor for overnight updates, including weather forecasts as well as river and stream level reports, and relay any alerts to the SEOC.

District engineers and district managers in all 10 West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) districts were meeting with county administrators in their districts to brief them and ensure all counties are prepared to deal with heavy rainfall, state officials said.

DOH employees were on 24-hour standby through the duration of the weather event. Standard DOH storm protocols include making sure all equipment and vehicles are gassed up and ready to go and stored out of low-lying areas. Highways districts also have fuel reserves on-hand to fuel vehicles and equipment of the West Virginia National Guard if the Guard should be mobilized for flood response, state officials said.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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(c)2021 the Bluefield Daily Telegraph (Bluefield, W.Va.)

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