As It Sweeps Northeast, Irma Loses Power But Still Causes Problems
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Irma is now technically a post-tropical cyclone, having lost some of its power as it sweeps northeast. The storm pounded Florida from bottom to top, then traveled inland across Georgia and into Alabama, which is where we have reached Brian Hastings. He's the director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.
BRIAN HASTINGS: Good morning, Rachel. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: How's Alabama holding up?
HASTINGS: Well, I'll tell you what, Alabama's holding up. The storm hit us the way we expected based on weather forecasts from about 24 hours ago to 36 hours ago. So what we had was a mostly wind event starting in the southeast counties of Alabama and slowly moving north with the highest winds between 2:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. this morning.
MARTIN: So what's the biggest threat right now? I mean, is it flooding? Are we talking about wind, downed power lines?
HASTINGS: It's downed power lines, damage from trees falling from the high winds. So the high was just above 45,000 homes - people without power. We're down to about 25,000 in accordance with what Alabama Power Company put out this morning. And most of that is actually in the central eastern counties of Alabama at this time. And when it was safe last night after the storms had passed, the winds passed, the crews were out there trying to get people back online.
MARTIN: So your state was actually a destination for some of the people in Florida who were looking for shelter. I understand there are about 250,000 Floridians in your state right now. Is that putting a strain on emergency services in Alabama?
HASTINGS: I don't want to say it's putting a strain on emergency services, but what we did ask for was an emergency declaration category B, which just lets the federal government know that we are caring and feeding for evacuees. We want to make sure that we're caring for them. We were concerned about the flow of evacuees into and now out of the state. And the other thing is that as evacuees were leaving Florida, a lot of them were - as they were seeking shelter, we wanted to make sure that we funneled them to those locations that were going to be out of the way of the tropical force winds, which was favoring Baldwin County near Mobile, Ala. and Montgomery, Ala.
So we just wanted to make sure that where people were seeking shelter, those shelters were out of harm's way.
MARTIN: So it sounds like things went as well as they could in your state. What steps did you take to both protect your citizens in Alabama and the evacuees who were fleeing from Florida?
HASTINGS: Well, it started three weeks ago when we had a Hurrevac exercise and we were talking with our National Guard partners, FEMA, NORTHCOM, FEMA Region IV and we had all the people in a room that we'd be talking to this week. So that was fortuitous. And then last week, we were getting ready to go through our timelines if Irma was going to go around Key West and actually have a potential direct strike on the Panhandle. And we just met those timelines so that we energized our emergency operation centers.
So we got people on the floor and our state agencies talking and coordinating so we can push information out to our people and those entities that needed information for action. We went level 1, which means 24/7 operations on the floor since Saturday morning. And we just wanted to make sure that we were gathering details from our divisions in the eastern side of Alabama and north side. They were activated also so that we were funneling information so we can act on it and help people respond and recover in a safe manner.
MARTIN: Sounds like the nature of this storm, having so much of a heads up, allowed you to prepare and coordinate all your communication, which ended up helping in the long run. Thank you so much for your time. Director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency Brian Hastings this morning. Thanks so much.
HASTINGS: Hey, thanks, Rachel. Have a good day.
MARTIN: You too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.