Ophelia Forces North Carolina Coastal Evacuation

Two-and-a-half weeks after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Ophelia sweeps along the coastline of North Carolina. The storm has been moving slowly, bringing heavy rain and winds of 85 miles an hour. Many residents along North Carolina's coast have evacuated, and federal, state and local officials are on alert.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Two and a half weeks after Hurricane Katrina stuck the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Ophelia is sweeping along the coastline of North Carolina. The storm has been moving slowly, bringing heavy rain and winds that have now been clocked at around 80 miles per hour. Many residents along North Carolina's coast have evacuated; federal, state and local officials are on alert. We want to talk a little bit about the preparations for this storm, since preparation was such a big issue for Hurricane Katrina. So we're going to Captain Matt Hanley, he's a spokesman for the North Carolina National Guard. And he's on the phone from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Good morning.

Captain MATT HANLEY (North Carolina National Guard): Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what preparations have you made for this hurricane?

Capt. HANLEY: Well, Sunday evening we put about 200 National Guardsmen on state active duty in preparation, and now that number is up to about 300, and staging them in armories towards our coast, not on the coastline directly but just inland in preparation for operations as our state emergency management needs us to do.

INSKEEP: What are they ready to do?

Capt. HANLEY: Well, they're ready to do--basically, there's two things. We push supplies in and get people out, so they're equipped with high-water vehicles, Humvees, five-ton trucks, vehicles like that. And also they have some folks that are--have the ability to work in the state warehouses and get those supplies out and get them down to where they're needed.

INSKEEP: Now, Captain, you're in a part of the country which gets a lot of hurricanes. You know, obviously, that's going to be a regular part of your job. As people where you are watched what happened with Katrina, did you learn any lessons?

Capt. HANLEY: Well, you know, every storm is different and, you know, we're--I'm not going to play Monday morning quarterback with anybody because, you know, every storm we've had is different. So we take lessons learned from each one of these and you plan the best you can plan, but sometimes conditions on the ground change so...

INSKEEP: Well, let's not make you Monday morning quarterback, but I am interested, is there something that happened or didn't happen in New Orleans that you said, `Boy, we need to learn to do something different with the next storm,' and here's the next storm?

Capt. HANLEY: Well, honestly, we work very closely with our state emergency management. They're really our bosses on this type of operation. And we rehearse in the off season, you know, what we need to do and where we're going to place people if storms come in.

INSKEEP: Now I know the Department of Homeland Security, the federal government, has already positioned hundreds of trailers, water and ice, meals ready-to-eat in the area there. Is that a typical response for a hurricane of this relatively moderate strength?

Capt. HANLEY: Well, I will say that our federal officials have been readily available to the state of North Carolina. There's around 250 of them that have been here working out of the emergency operation center here in Raleigh and all the individuals with FEMA and so forth have been readily available to our state agency.

INSKEEP: Are people communicating well?

Capt. HANLEY: Oh yes, very much so.

INSKEEP: And just in terms of being ready to jump, do you think that people feel a little differently about this storm because of what has happened in recent weeks?

Capt. HANLEY: I think, yeah. I think in some ways. As you mentioned earlier, North Carolinians, we are--I hate to use the word `used to' to hurricanes, but we do get our fair share. However, this time around, you know, people were--and the governor was urging everybody right through yesterday, you know, `It's time to get out, let's take it serious.' It's, you know--people kind of tend to look at those categories and feel a little bit more safer, but 85-mile-an-hour winds and with our coastal areas, water is the big issue.

INSKEEP: Captain, in just a couple of seconds, how's the weather? I know you're inland, but how are things going right now?

Capt. HANLEY: Things are going pretty well. This morning we'll be moving out and getting our assessments in, finding out what the citizens of North Carolina need. And this is a slow-moving storm, so we'll be following along its trail and getting out to our citizens and see where we can help.

INSKEEP: Captain, thanks very much.

Capt. HANLEY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Captain Matt Hanley, he's the spokesman for the North Carolina National Guard. He was on the phone from Raleigh, North Carolina, as Ophelia passes by.

This is NPR News.

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