As Hurricane Florence edged closer to the Port City and surrounding areas Wednesday, utility crews were getting ready for widespread service outages.
Duke Energy crews in coastal North Carolina expect extensive damage and power outages
that could take weeks to bring back to full restoration, officials said.
As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, Hurricane Florence had weakened to a Category 3, still a major hurricane and officials continued to anticipate potentially life-threatening effects from storm surge and flooding for areas in its path.
More than 6,500 Carolinas-based workers are being joined by 1,400 workers from Duke Energy Midwest and 1,000 from Duke Energy Florida to respond to the storm, Duke Energy officials said in an email.
And with 9,000 additional resources coming from other utilities to help, more than 20,000 people are in place for restoration efforts as soon as it’s safe to do so, officials added.
“Line technicians, service crews and other personnel are available throughout our service area and are ready to respond to outages and emergencies ... Historical data and our company experience shows that complete restoration from a major hurricane can take multiple days to several weeks, depending on the extent of the actual damage, resources available and conditions following the storm, such as flooding,” Duke Energy officials said in an email.
"Hurricane Florence is forecasted to be a historic weather event in the Carolinas and power restoration could take weeks – not hours or even days," officials said.
Duke Energy is slated to have enough crews in the Carolinas to restore power, but restoration cannot begin "until the storm has passed and our workers can safely access impacted communities," stated officials. "Restoration efforts could be further delayed, if the storm stalls, which could result in significant flooding limiting access to power equipment and additional structural damage."
Karen Williams, spokeswoman for Duke Energy’s Brunswick Nuclear Plant, said Wednesday that the plant was “still operating at 100 percent.”
“When we have confirmed that hurricane-force winds will arrive on-site, we will respond according to our procedures. The plant will shut down before the arrival of hurricane-force winds on-site,” Williams said.
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), plant procedures require operators to shut down the reactor before hurricane-force winds arrive on site.
“Duke Energy’s Brunswick nuclear plant south of Wilmington, N.C., could face hurricane-force winds, major storm surges and heavy rain. Other plants near the storm’s projected path are also taking precautions,” NRC officials said in the release.
The NRC has sent resident inspectors to nuclear plants in the Carolinas to review plant operators’ preparations in advance of the hurricane, officials said. The commission is also sending out additional inspectors.
“In preparing for Hurricane Florence, the staffs at Brunswick, Surry in southeastern Virginia, Harris near Raleigh, N.C., Robinson near Hartsville, S.C., and some other plants are working through their severe weather procedures, including ensuring that all loose debris and equipment have been removed or secured, and conducting walk-down inspections of important systems and equipment,” NRC officials said in the release.
Nuclear plant operators would declare an emergency if necessary, officials said. The additional NRC inspectors will remain at the nuclear plant sites, and the incident response center will remain staffed as long as conditions require, the release stated.
The NRC has also been in touch with officials at the GE Hitachi Global Nuclear Fuel facility near Wilmington, and other NRC licensees in the state to verify their preparations for the storm.
The NRC's Atlanta-based incident response center will remain staffed as long as necessary, the release stated.
The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is also anticipating storm-related impacts, according to an announcement Wednesday.
"Heavy rains, flooding, high winds, and coastal storm surge can lead to periods of service outages and low pressure. Possible scenarios that CFPUA staff are preparing for include pipe breaks related to up-rooted trees or sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) due to flooding," officials said in the release.
The CFPUA advised customers not to attempt to address flooding waters or water breaks, or open manhole covers in an attempt to drain floodwaters.
Area utilities weren't the only ones bracing for the impacts of Hurricane Florence on Wednesday.
Flights coming through the Wilmington International Airport were reducing in number, as the airlines prepared to cease flights ahead of the storm.