Responding to Dorian in Suffolk

Published 10:22 pm Friday, September 6, 2019

By Alex Perry and Jimmy LaRoue

Staff Writers

Hurricane Dorian brought wind and rain late Thursday evening into Friday, and emergency personnel were quick to act.

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The Virginia Division Three Technical Rescue Team of the Lynchburg Fire Department arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront on East Constance Road Thursday evening.

The team was ready for deployment by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, as were the Bedford County Special Operations Command Team, who came with rescue boats, search and rescue cache, paramedics, boat operators, rescue swimmers and more.

“We’re hoping for the best, but we’re here just in case,” said John Ripley, captain of the Virginia Division Three Technical Rescue Team. “If it starts to flood or anything like that, we can have additional assistance that we can provide.”

Suffolk Police, Fire and Rescue and Public Works reported minimal impact from Hurricane Dorian overnight Thursday and early Friday morning, according to a city press release.

The emergency shelter that the city opened at King’s Fork High School Thursday evening, which successfully assisted five citizens before it closed at 4 p.m. Friday, city spokeswoman Diana Klink wrote in an email.

“We have an excellent plan for which we have trained extensively in conjunction with our multiple community partners,” Klink wrote.

Tidal flooding occurred on North Main Street at the Kimberly Bridge, and crews responded to downed trees or tree limbs at several locations.

At the Bennett’s Creek Marina in North Suffolk, Butch Simonetti said he was thankful that it offered a free boat slip during Hurricane Dorian. Simonetti, who lives in Eclipse, took advantage of it and was sitting on his boat Friday afternoon.

“We’ve been blessed again,” Simonetti said as wind gusts kicked up and a couple of people and a dog were on a boat motoring toward the nearby bridge. “We had the generators ready, but we didn’t need them — so far.”

David Banks, who lives off of Dixon Road across from Chuckatuck Creek, said he was checking the ropes on his boat, the Magic Moment, about every two hours during the storm. He loosened the rope so the boat could float up higher.

“Here it’s nice, because the way that we face over here, all your storm, the east wind comes from the other side of the peninsula, so we don’t get any wind over here, until it started pulling away and then it started getting the northwest wind coming in,” said Banks, who has lived there for about three years, driving the Magic Moment down from his previous home in Massachusetts. “It got pretty rough. My boat was rocking and rolling. It was moving all over the place. It’s supposed to be nice and calm tonight, and I’ll take it.”

Still, the effects from Dorian were enough to flood the road in front of the creek, with the water beginning to recede shortly after high tide Friday afternoon. When the east wind doesn’t back off, he said it pushes water out of the creek onto the road, and sometimes beyond.

Because of the storm, Banks canceled plans to fly to Maine to watch his brother renew his wedding vows. He said he didn’t want to leave his wife Lisa and 2-year old son, Nathan, and he wanted to be around to check on his boat.

“I was supposed to fly out yesterday and go up there, but I canceled going because I didn’t know what this was going to do,” Banks said. “And I wasn’t about to leave them here and take care of the boat, and all that stuff, so I canceled my trip. I had already taken four days off anyway.”

They were all checking out that boat, as well as a smaller one they own Friday afternoon as she walked down the dock, which near its end was partially submerged into the creek. Other docks in that stretch were completely underwater. While it was breezy and overcast, the rain had stopped by that point.

Like other residents there, they were prepared for worse than what they got. Banks said a February storm was much worse than Dorian, bringing with it 60-mile-per-hour winds and water over Dixon Road. More recently, the road faced similar conditions.

“It was like this two weeks ago when we had an east wind blow for four days straight — not this bad, but it came up over the road by the Dumpster over there.” Banks said, pointing down the road from his home.

Cyndi Yodzis, who has lived in her Dixon Road home for nearly 23 years, said she weathered the storm without incident, though a cousin of hers who lives in North Carolina near the state line with Virginia, lost power to their trailer.

Like other nearby residents, Yodzis did not lose power, and while their yards were saturated and some wind-aided debris was in their yards, she said being in what she described as a protective cove, she didn’t expect to see anything worse than the water covering much of the road in front of her home.

“If it’s true that this is the worst tide, then I’m very grateful,” Yodzis said. “Because when (Hurricane) Isabel came through, the water actually came up just below my big pine tree right there. When I look out my windows, I’m looking at power lines, so I’m not worried about storm surge, but what we worry about is wind. The James River side seems to take the brunt of the winds most of the time.”

Dominion Energy Program Manager James Bakos and his nine line crews saw lots of water, broken tree limbs and blown fuses. Wind gusts tore off dead branches and sent them crashing into power lines.

“It cleans the trees out and just throws the debris everywhere, and a lot of them just hit our lines,” he said.

Bakos has been with Dominion Energy for more than three decades and has seen his fair share of hurricanes. Once again, the wind was one of the biggest factors for Bakos and his crew members.

“It was like you were constantly fighting the wind to keep yourself from being pushed around,” he said. “It kind of wears you out a little bit.”

Approximately 7,000 workers from Dominion Energy’s offices in northern and northwest Virginia came to assist locally, including crews that came in from other states. At the Comfort Suites off of Bridge Road, bucket trucks from The Elliot Companies, Dominion Energy contractors, were on standby to be deployed to areas in Suffolk and throughout Hampton Roads to help restore power.

Dominion spokeswoman Bonita Billingsley Harris said that there were 97,000 Dominion customers affected by the storm in southeastern Virginia, including 2,700 customers in Suffolk. All Suffolk customers were expected to be back on by Friday evening.

Crews worked into the day and night and through the wind and rain to get the lights back on.

“They’re working all night and today to restore power as quickly and as safely as they can,” Harris said.