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Damage from Hurricane Dorian
Dorian's floodwaters trap people in attics in North Carolina

ATLANTIC BEACH, N.C. — A weakened Hurricane Dorian flooded homes on North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Friday with a fury that took even storm-hardened residents by surprise, forcing people to climb into their attics. Hundreds were feared trapped by high water, and neighbors used boats to rescue one another.

Medics and other rescuers rushed to Ocracoke Island — accessible only by boat or air — to reach those who made the mistake of defying mandatory evacuation orders along the 200-mile ribbon of low-lying islands.

“We are flooding like crazy,” Ocracoke Island bookshop owner Leslie Lanier texted. “I have been here 32 years and not seen this.”

Its winds down to 90 mph, Dorian howled over the Outer Banks as a far weaker storm than the brute that wreaked havoc on the Bahamas at the start of the week. Just when it looked as if its run up the Southeast coast was coming to a relatively quiet end, the Category 1 hurricane sent seawater surging over neighborhoods, flooding the first floors of many homes, even ones on stilts.

“There is significant concern about hundreds of people trapped on Ocracoke Island,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.

Over and over, longtime residents said that they had never seen flooding so bad, and that places in their homes that had never flooded before were inundated.

“We were all on social media laughing about how we’d done well and there was really no flooding at all, just rain, typical rain,” Steve Harris, who has lived on Ocracoke Island for most of the last 19 years. And then, “the wall of water just came rushing through the island.”

The hurricane wrought much of its destruction through swift and severe storm surge from Pamlico Sound, the long lagoon that separates the islands from the North Carolina mainland. Powerful winds sucked water away from the coast, then pushed it back in a massive wave onto the western sides of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. In less than two hours, tide gauges measured a water level increase of more than 7 feet — enough to submerge a home’s first-floor windows.

An estimated 800 people who did not evacuate remained stranded without power. Emergency responders were forced to wait for the weather to break before they could deliver aid and rescue victims via helicopter.

The Coast Guard began landing local law enforcement officers on Ocracoke Island via helicopter and airlifting out the sick, the elderly or others in distress, Hyde County authorities said. National Guard helicopters also flew supplies and a rescue team in. Residents were told to get to the highest point in their homes in the meantime.

“Several people were rescued from their upper floors or attics by boat by good Samaritans,” Ocracoke Island restaurant owner Jason Wells said in a text message.

By evening, the governor said that officials were aware of no serious injuries on the Outer Banks from the storm. One 79-year-old man was airlifted from Ocracoke Island because of a pre-existing condition, authorities said. People in need of temporary housing were being taken to a shelter on the mainland, the governor said.

“The hurricane has left behind destruction where storm surge inundated Ocracoke Island,” Cooper said. “Currently the island has no electricity and many homes and buildings are still underwater.”

Around midmorning, the eye of the storm came ashore at Cape Hatteras, Dorian’s first landfall in the continental U.S. after a week and a half in which it spread fear up and down the coast and kept people guessing as to where it would go.

By late afternoon, Dorian had peeled off the coastline and was finally making its exit out to sea. It is expected to remain a hurricane as it sweeps up the Eastern Seaboard through Saturday, veering far enough offshore that its hurricane-force winds are unlikely to pose any threat to land in the U.S.

Power outages had dropped by about one-third, to around 213,000 in the Carolinas and Virginia.

At least four deaths in the Southeast were blamed on Dorian. All were men in Florida or North Carolina who died in falls or by electrocution while trimming trees, putting up storm shutters or otherwise getting ready for the hurricane.

Dorian slammed the Bahamas at the start of the week with 185 mph winds, killing at least 30 people and obliterating countless homes. From there, it swept past Florida and Georgia, then sideswiped much of the coast of the Carolinas on Thursday, spinning off tornadoes that peeled away roofs and flipped recreational vehicles.

The Outer Banks have always been especially vulnerable to rough weather.

For years, the island chain has been slowly shifting west, toward the mainland, beaten back by the encroaching sea. The term “barrier islands” refers to the way these landforms protect coastlines through their shapeshifting.

“It’s a dynamic system,” explained Kitty Hawk resident Reide Corbett, a coastal oceanographer at East Carolina University and executive director of the Coastal Studies Institute in Manteo. The resilience of the North Carolina coastline — not to mention some 30,000 year-round residents and a billion-dollar tourism industry — depend on it.

Yet climate change has pushed the system to its limits. Rising sea levels have created a higher floor for storm surge to ride on top of, producing more frequent and more catastrophic floods.

“The water levels in the ocean and the sound are changing,” Corbett said. “When you have 100 mile per hour winds blowing it up against the island, there’s no place for it to go but inundate.”

***

The federal agency that oversees the National Weather Service has sided with President Donald Trump over its own scientists in the ongoing controversy over whether Alabama was at risk of a direct hit from Hurricane Dorian.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated Alabama was in fact threatened by the storm at the time Trump tweeted that Alabama would “most likely be hit [much] harder than anticipated.”

Referencing archived hurricane advisories, the NOAA statement said that information provided to Trump and the public between Aug. 28 and Monday “demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama.”

In an unusual move, the statement also admonished the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Ala., which released a tweet contradicting Trump’s claim, that stated: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.” NOAA oversees the National Weather Service.

The NOAA statement said: “The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

Released six days after Trump’s first tweet on the matter, the NOAA statement was unsigned, neither from the acting head of the agency nor or any spokesperson. It also came a day after the homeland security and counterterrorism advisor released a statement justifying Trump’s claims of the Alabama threat.

The NOAA statement on Friday makes no reference to the fact that when Trump tweeted Alabama was at risk it was not in the National Hurricane Center’s “cone of uncertainty,” which is the zone in which forecasters determine the storm is most likely to track. Alabama had also not appeared in the cone in days prior, and no Hurricane Center text product ever mentioned the state.

Trump’s tweet that Alabama would be impacted by the storm gained national attention on Wednesday when he presented a modified version of the forecast cone on Aug. 29, extended into Alabama — hand-drawn using a Sharpie.

Ten days ago, computer model predictions did present a scenario in which Dorian would strike Florida, enter the Gulf of Mexico and potentially impact Alabama. However, by Friday, Aug. 29, when the president was briefed by acting NOAA administrator Neil Jacobs, that scenario had become highly unlikely. By Sunday morning, when Trump tweeted about the Alabama threat, no credible computer model showed any risk to the state.


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featured
Lohmann: He never gave up, and more than 40 years later he finished his high school education

With the new school year underway, here’s a story of regret and resolve and the importance of education, and how it’s never too late to go back to school.

It’s the story of Artos Martin.

Martin, 60, who grew up in Washington, D.C., dropped out of school at age 16, figuring he knew more than he did and ignoring the advice of his parents and chasing the wrong crowd. He got into some trouble with the law, found the right path with the help of some good people and went on to become a solid citizen, doing manual labor and driving a truck, raising a family and building a life.

But he never got his high school diploma, and it always bugged him.

So, inspired by a friend, A.C. Morris, who went back to school later in life to earn his diploma, Martin decided to do the same. While earning the necessary credits, he survived a heart attack and a stroke — this after undergoing a kidney transplant (his wife, Sara, was the donor) more than a decade earlier — but he didn’t let those setbacks stop him.

He completed his work, and in June he was asked to speak at Chesterfield County’s adult education graduation ceremony.

“When I walked through the doors to enroll, I was afraid, but so proud, knowing there was no turning back,” he told the gathering, as he recounted the doubt that crept in after the heart attack and subsequent stroke. “Those old negative thoughts of giving up started to resurface in my head, but all I could think about was getting my education and my diploma.

“While I was recovering from the stroke, I read a book by Booker T. Washington, titled ‘Up from Slavery.’ When I read about the sacrifices that were made for freedom and education, I knew then, if I had to crawl on my hands and knees, if I had to be carried in, I was determined to get my diploma.”

Martin is a little older than most of the adult students who return to earn a diploma, said Cynthia D. Barnes, GED support specialist in the office of Equity and Student Support Services for the Chesterfield school system. The largest population Barnes’ office serves is the 25-to-44 age range, accounting for more than half of the students. Approximately 25 percent are younger than 25 and 20 percent are older than 44. Only about 7 percent of students are in the 60-plus age group.

But the more the merrier, and the older the better.

“We love our older students,” Barnes said in an email. “In general, they are very engaged participants and eager to learn. They have great attendance and their homework is always done! It is great to have more voices in the classroom that are encouraging the other students to persist and not give up when the work gets challenging.”

Martin is an example of that persistence, becoming “an active participant and a morale-booster,” Barnes said.

I found out about Martin from his golfing buddy Stu Watson, who told me he found Martin inspiring.

The three of us met for lunch, where I learned Martin has scored two holes-in-one over the years (actually, three, he said, though he didn’t have a witness for the third one, so he doesn’t always talk about that one). But the real story was the uncommon thread Martin and Watson share, which came to light after they had played golf together a couple of times. Watson said when they first met he had a feeling that Martin had an interesting background, so he arranged for the two of them to share the same cart for a round this summer.

“We were riding down the fairway, and I said, ‘Artos, there’s something about me not many people know, but I want to share it with you,’” Watson began. “I said, ‘Well, I actually didn’t graduate from high school, and after I retired I went back to the technical center down here in Chesterfield and I got my GED.’

“He looked at me, and I was afraid he was going to fall over dead,” Watson recalled, as Martin began laughing at the retelling of the story. “I didn’t know what was going on, but then he said, ‘I just finished mine, and I was the commencement speaker!’ And then things poured out of him.”

Watson had taken a far different path to his GED than Martin, having withdrawn from high school after his family made a series of moves, enrolled in community college to audit classes, eventually earned a bachelor’s degree, served in the Air Force and earned a doctorate in polymer chemistry and polymer engineering. He retired in 2008 as a senior vice president and technical director at Carpenter Co. after 25 years at the company.

For Watson, the GED was about tying up loose ends; for Martin, it was more.

“Anybody could do what I did,” Watson said. “Very few could do what he did.”

I asked Martin why he decided to go back. He’s retired, so even though he had recognized through the years that his lack of a high school diploma had limited his employment opportunities, at this stage of his life it wasn’t going to do him a lot of practical good. He and his wife, who have been married for 39 years, live in Chesterfield, and their children are grown and doing well, having earned college degrees — their son works in cybersecurity, their daughter is a nurse practitioner.

“I don’t need it,” he said of the diploma. “I wanted it for personal gratification. I wanted to encourage my kids that, you know, Dad didn’t just give up. I wanted to do it for them and for others who may have been caught up in the things I was caught up in [in his youth], the kids who feel they don’t have the opportunities with all the hatred and prejudices going on now. It’s so easy for them to say, ‘I quit. What’s the use?’ I just want to let them know that they should never give up.”

Martin said he’s not done. In addition to his day jobs, he has served as a pastor of the Gospel Spreading Church of God, which helped get him going in the right direction many years ago. With a GED under his belt, he’s looking into attending seminary.

“At age 60, it’s late in life,” he said, “but I think I still have a little bit in me to help somebody.”


Column
Dorian: by the numbers

Hurricane Dorian came ashore in Cape Hatteras on Friday morning as a potent storm, yet with far less ferocity than it displayed over the Bahamas earlier in the week.

Still, North Carolina and Virginia experienced once again the danger and disruption wrought by rapid coastal flooding, crashing trees, torrential rains and fleeting tornadoes.

After grazing the North Carolina beaches from the Wilmington area to Cape Lookout, the eye of Dorian officially made landfall over Cape Hatteras at 8:35 a.m. with 90 mph sustained winds, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The last time Cape Hatteras was the site of a head-on hurricane landfall was during Gloria in 1985. Though it’s an interesting technicality, dozens of hurricanes have affected Hatteras Island to some degree since then.

From a historical perspective, Dorian did not rank among the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the Tar Heel State. Coincidentally, it had identical wind and sea level pressure to Hurricane Florence when that storm plodded ashore near Wilmington last September, though Dorian took a more typical forward pace of 14 mph.

At peak strength over the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas on Sunday, Dorian’s sustained winds were 185 mph, with gusts to 225 mph.

According to the tropical meteorology department at Colorado State University, Dorian is in a tie for the second-strongest peak sustained winds for any Atlantic hurricane since 1950. In 1980, Allen set the record at 190 mph, while Gilbert in 1988 and Wilma in 2005 also peaked at 185 mph. Allen, Gilbert and Wilma, however, did not strike land at that full strength.

There’s more uncertainty about the records of ocean-going storms in the distant eras that predate satellites and reconnaissance by the Hurricane Hunters aircraft. Dorian’s 185 mph landfall matched the all-time record set by a cataclysmic 1935 hurricane in the Florida Keys.

But Dorian was likely the most ferocious hurricane known to make landfall in the Bahamas, especially considering that it paused for three days over the northern part of the island chain.

While the damage caused by the winds and waves have yet to be fully assessed along the entire path — and there will be more to come as Dorian blasts Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in Canada this weekend — these weather observations show the scope of the system as it affected our region.

***

Preliminary peak gusts by state (including nearby coastal waters), according to the National Weather Service:

  • Florida: 69 mph at New Smyrna Beach
  • Georgia: 67 mph buoy at Raccoon Bluff
  • South Carolina: 98 mph at a buoy southeast of Centenary
  • North Carolina: 110 mph at Cedar Island Ferry Terminal
  • Virginia: 83 mph at Chesapeake Light Tower

***

Preliminary peak rainfall by state:

  • Florida: 5.68 inches near Palm Coast
  • Georgia: 2.83 inches near Darien
  • South Carolina: 15.21 inches near Pawleys Island
  • North Carolina: 13.1 inches near Wilmington
  • Virginia: 2.89 inches in Virginia Beach

***

Selected gusts across our region on Friday:

  • Hatteras — 101 mph
  • Oregon Inlet — 99 mph
  • Nags Head — 78 mph
  • Cape Henry — 70 mph
  • Norfolk — 64 mph
  • Wallops Island — 46 mph
  • Richmond International Airport — 38 mph

***

Selected rain totals across the region on Friday:

  • Nags Head — 7.75 inches
  • Virginia Beach — 3.64 inches
  • Norfolk — 1.86 inches
  • Newport News — 1.19 inches
  • Chesterfield County Airport — 0.61 inches
  • Richmond International Airport — 0.38 inches

***

More than 47,000 customers were without power in southeastern Virginia at 10:45 a.m. Friday, according to Dominion Energy’s online outage map. The figure for that region declined to 23,225 by 4:30 p.m. and 10,317 by 7 p.m.

Outage figures for the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck hovered between 1,000 and 1,900 throughout the morning but fell to just 7 by 7 p.m.

Outages for the Richmond region were even more isolated, on the order of 500 customers during midmorning.


Plus
breaking featured
Experts: VCU president's ghostwritten Coliseum column raises ethics, academic integrity concerns

An op-ed ghostwritten by a private developer in support of the developer’s massive project in downtown Richmond and published under the name of Virginia Commonwealth University’s president raises ethical concerns, experts say.

The opinion column, published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in January, praised NH District Corp.’s plan to redevelop part of the city, including building a new arena, hotel and apartments — and potentially a new medical building for VCU.

The column was drafted by Jeff Kelley, a public relations consultant working for NH District Corp., and edited slightly before being signed off on by VCU President Michael Rao, according to public records obtained by The Times-Dispatch.

Having the column written by someone outside VCU raises credibility and ethics questions, multiple experts said. A student who turned in someone else’s writing as their own would be in violation of the university’s honor code.

At the very least, experts said, the column should have disclosed that it was initially drafted by Kelley, the representative for a project that could benefit the university.

“It is common knowledge that leaders don’t usually write their own speeches or op-eds, but those are usually written by their own people,” said Roy Gutterman, the director of the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “Putting your name onto something that was written by an outside interested party is certainly ethically questionable.”

Rao, the highest-paid state official with earnings topping $1 million annually, was not made available for an interview Friday. VCU spokeswoman Pam Lepley defended the column via email, saying it was based on an interview Kelley conducted with Rao and “entirely on a position the president already had expressed.”

“The final op-ed submitted to the publication was vetted and edited by my communications team and me and reviewed by the president who endorsed that it authentically reflected his words and opinion,” she said, calling it an “acceptable business practice” for communications staff members to work on op-eds together.

Shannon Bowen, a professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications and a public relations ethics columnist for PRWeek, said it’s not unusual for public relations staff to write an op-ed, but the column should have disclosed that it wasn’t written by Rao.

“If it’s going to carry the name of the VCU president, we should have a reasonable assumption of honesty, veracity and authenticity that that’s where the piece originated,” Bowen said.

Jeff South, who teaches journalism and mass communications at VCU, said it’s important for the core message of an op-ed to “come from the top down, not the other way around.”

“In my mind, the litmus test is whether the message is faithful to the prominent figure’s thoughts and beliefs,” South said.

South, who said he was personally OK with the column being written by Kelley because Kelley had interviewed Rao about the project, said it would have been more transparent if both Rao and Kelley had signed the op-ed.

Having the column written by an outside party without that disclosure appears to conflict with VCU’s academic integrity policy, which specifically prohibits someone from presenting another person’s work as their own “without customary and proper acknowledgment of the source.”

A student who is found to have violated the policy generally receives an F for a grade in the class, according to the VCU Honor System. If it happens again, they’re suspended from the university for at least three semesters.

Lepley said comparing the Rao op-ed written by Kelley to an academic integrity issue is “not a fair comparison.”

Gutterman, the Syracuse professor, said Rao should be held to the same standard as students.

“Any figurehead or leader, whether it’s a university or a government entity, really should conduct him- or herself with the highest level of ethics and morals,” he said. “It’s going to be really hard for academic affairs personnel to bring students up on academic integrity charges with this as the backdrop. “How can you tell students to act ethically when the leader of the university isn’t in such a public way?”

Rao attended a news conference in November 2018 where Mayor Levar Stoney publicly endorsed the Coliseum redevelopment project. The plan was formally submitted to the City Council last month.

Initial plans submitted last year by NH District Corp., an organization led by Dominion Energy CEO and former VCU board of visitors member Tom Farrell, called for 475,000 square feet of research and office space and specifically mentioned VCU.

The plan, which must be approved by the City Council and reviewed by a citizen commission, would use tax revenue from an 80-block area of downtown to help finance the arena.

A campus master plan approved by the VCU board of visitors in March said the university is “exploring potential partnerships” with the redevelopment project. VCU spokesman Mike Porter said that is still the case, but did not say how the university was looking to be a part of the project. “It would be premature to discuss specific potential uses for any VCU or VCU Health building that could become part of the project before the Navy Hill Redevelopment Plan receives approval from the city,” he said.

The final plans submitted by NH District Corp. that are being reviewed by the City Council include the research and office space.

Kelley, who was a reporter for The Times-Dispatch from 2003 to 2007, has acknowledged that he was involved in writing another op-ed last year supporting the project that was originally signed by multiple contributors, including Hakim J. Lucas, the president of Virginia Union University; and Makola M. Abdullah, the president of Virginia State University. After it was published, more contributors, including Farrell, were added online.


tIMES-DISPATCH  

An aide to VCU President Michael Rao said the column “authentically reflected his words and opinion.”