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Hurricane Bonnie Gets Hams' Attention

WILMINGTON, NC, Aug 31, 1998--The cleanup has begun in the wake of the first major storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, Hurricane Bonnie. The storm hit the North Carolina coast on August 26, knocking out power to thousands of homes and causing structural damage and widespread flooding from torrential rain. At least one death was reported in North Carolina when a tree smashed through her house. More than a half million residents and visitors in the Carolinas were ordered to move inland as the storm approached, but damage ended up being less severe than predicted in North Carolina. Officials opened more than 100 shelters in North Carolina to accommodate those who were temporarily displaced. Amateur Radio Emergency Service teams deployed in coastal Carolina regions as the massive hurricane approached. "Our goal is to have at least one ham in every shelter," North Carolina Section Manager Reed Whitten, AB4W, said.

Hams at shelters provided communication support and backup, handled outgoing health-and-welfare traffic, and reassured shelter residents that they were not totally out of touch with the outside world. For that reason alone, Whitten said, hams working in the shelters were advised to maintain a high profile. Hams also staffed emergency operations centers in the wake of ARES activations.

The Hurricane Watch Net on 14.325 MHz provided ground-level meteorological reports to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, which houses W4EHW. Other activity took place on VHF and UHF.

ARRL PIO Frank Ebbinghouser, N2EMR, in Wilmington, North Carolina, says a local TV station interviewed one ham at a shelter. "We are all fine," Ebbinghouser said in an e-mail message to ARRL Headquarters. He said damage from Bonnie did not appear to be as serious as in past storms.

By August 28, Whitten reported that many shelters and EOCs had released their Amateur Radio operators, although one relief operator was diverted to Carteret County after shelters in Sampson County closed.

The HF stations in Kinston and the state EOC went into standby. A few EOCs and shelters remained active, and the Tar Heel Emergency Net on HF was monitoring for them. The net remained in continuous operation for more than two days, providing communication for Emergency Management and relief agencies.

As Bonnie churned slowly away from North Carolina, hams in Virginia awaited their turn. On August 26, Virginia ARES/RACES had activated in anticipation of the storm. Virginia State RACES Officer and ARES SEC Frank Mackey, K4EC, said that many local emergency operation centers were staffed with hams, and many shelters opened in anticipation of evacuations. ARES station W4ZA at the state EOC was activated. As the storm appeared to be losing strength, Mackey reported that ham radio operations were standing down and shelters closing. Then, Bonnie changed her mind.

Hurricane Bonnie was downgraded to a tropical storm Thursday, August 27, but picked up steam again as it headed north and regained hurricane status, catching hams and emergency officials off guard. Hardest hit was the Tidewater area of Virginia, which experienced heavy rain and damaging winds--clocked unofficially at more than 100 MPH.

The home of District 9 Emergency Coordinator Cynthia Rohrer, AE4EF, in Chesapeake suffered extensive structural damage, and outbuildings were totally demolished. "It was impossible for her to get out of their residence due to extensive debris," Mackey said. "Damage from fallen trees and downed power poles appears to be very extensive." He said emergency managers and police were asking people to stay off the streets unless absolutely necessary.

Virginia Beach Hamfest organizer Lew Steingold, who holds the very appropriate call sign W4BLO, said he ended up operating on a generator. "I have large trees down around the house," he said. Steingold said he was unable to determine the damage as the storm was raging, but "heard loud bands and clunks as wind-driven limbs assault the house." The National Weather Service station was even knocked off the air, he said.

Virginia Electric Power reported more than 250,000 customers without power. Officials closed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel due to the strong winds. A roof was reported blown off an apartment building in the Oceanview section of Norfolk.

"The Norfolk area was still reeling under continued battering, higher-than-expected tidal surges coupled with local high tides, and strong winds," Mackey said Friday.

SKYWARN and emergency nets remained active in the region.

As of Monday, August 31, Bonnie, again downgraded to a tropical storm but still packing 70 MPH winds, was located some 250 miles south-southwest of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. Tropical storm warnings remained in effect along the Rhode Island coast and part of the Massachusetts coast.

Damage in North Carolina alone was estimated at up to $2 billion. Hams in the Southeast had been keeping close watch on Hurricane Danielle, but it appears that storm will not be a threat to the US mainland.


   



Page last modified: 02:25 PM, 31 Aug 1998 ET
Page author: awextra@arrl.org
Copyright © 1998, American Radio Relay League, Inc. All Rights Reserved.