NCDOT: A few roads closed due to downed trees and power lines in wake of Ian

Dozens of roads remained closed in central North Carolina early Saturday afternoon as crews worked to clear trees and power lines downed by the remnants of Hurricane Ian.

Most of the impassable roads were secondary routes in the Piedmont, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation. In the Triangle, about two dozen roads in Durham, Orange and Chatham counties remained blocked at midday Saturday, and NCDOT indicated they could remain that way into Sunday and in some cases beyond.

In Lee and Chatham counties, roads were plastered Saturday morning with wet leaves and pine straw, and crews worked at cutting up the occasional fallen tree. Drivers were out in downtown Pittsboro despite the fact that many businesses were closed because power was out in that part of town.

At the coast, all ferries were running again by 9:30 a.m. Saturday. NCDOT suspended all ferry service on Friday because of high wind and rough seas.

The bridge to Sunset Beach reopened Saturday as well. It was closed shortly after 1 p.m. Friday because of flooding on the causeway.

NCDOT and local road crews braced for flooding, after forecasters predicted Ian would dump 3 to 7 inches of rain on central and eastern North Carolina. But weeks of dry weather before the storm helped the earth to absorb the heavy rain.

So instead of washed-out roads and culverts, road crews worked to clear trees and power lines, which can block a road for hours or days rather than weeks or months.

NCDOT monitored road conditions for the first time with a new flood early-warning system for roads, bridges and culverts put in place last spring.

Forecasters said throughout the storm that flash flooding was likely, but that longer-term river flooding was not expected.

Flooded roads have been a life-threatening hazard in past storms. At least 10 of the 46 people whose deaths in North Carolina were blamed on Hurricane Florence in 2018 drowned when their car or truck was swept away in floodwaters, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The following year, Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill into law making it illegal to drive on a damaged road that has been closed or to remove or destroy a barrier meant to keep drivers away.

On Thursday, Cooper again warned people not to drive on water-covered roads.

“If you can’t see the pavement beneath the water, then there’s likely a problem,” he said during a press conference.

NCDOT and the state Division of Emergency Management are testing new systems that use stream gauges, rainfall data, software and computer models to show where road flooding is likely to happen in advance and to monitor flood waters at key locations in real time.

The system should help NCDOT decide where to send people and equipment. The department will still count on its employees or local authorities to confirm that a road or bridge is flooding before broadcasting it on social media or, the department’s statewide traffic management system.

Ferries and some trains suspended

NCDOT suspended most ferry service on Thursday, as the approaching storm created high wind and water and rough seas. This included both ferries across Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke, the Cherry Branch-Minnesott Beach ferry across the Neuse River and the South Port-Fort Fischer ferry.

On Friday morning it also suspended the ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke, the Currituck-Knotts Island ferry and the Bayview-Aurora ferry across the Pamlico River due to “high winds and rough conditions.”

Amtrak has canceled trains that pass through North Carolina between Florida and the Northeast both Friday and Saturday. These include the Silver Star between New York and Miami, which stops in Raleigh and Cary, and the Palmetto trains to and from Savannah. Amtrak said it was notifying passengers who had bought tickets on those trains.

Passenger trains between the Triangle and Charlotte, including the Piedmont and Carolinian, kept operating normally.

Raleigh-Durham International Airport also operated normally during the storm. Several flights to and from Florida were canceled on Friday, along with several more to other destinations, particularly Friday afternoon and evening. Travelers were advised to check with their airline before heading to the airport.