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Emergency crews are responding to numerous reports of trees falling onto power lines and roads in Charlotte and surrounding areas on Thursday afternoon after strong winds and heavy downpours from Tropical Storm Michael.
At 4:30 p.m., about 49,300 Duke customers in Mecklenburg County were without power. Across Duke’s Carolinas service area, about 328,600 customers were affected, with most of those in North Carolina.
Michael’s center barely missed Charlotte on Thursday as it moved from South Carolina toward Raleigh, bringing rising winds and heavy rains that could cause flash flooding into the night.
Winds began to pick up in early afternoon in Charlotte. Just before 1 p.m., winds at Charlotte’s airport were blowing at 20 mph with gusts to 36 mph.
Trees toppling onto power lines caused widespread outages.
Queens University of Charlotte canceled all remaining classes and closed for official business after losing electrical power. The campus phone system also was out, “which is impacting Campus Police dispatch,” Queens said on its website . “Until the phone system is restored, for emergencies call 704-964-1670.”
Charlotte Area Transit System suspended its Lynx Blue Line light rail service in the afternoon after fallen trees damaged the overhead catenary system in two places. CATS said it was working to restore service as soon as possible.
By 3 p.m., Medic tweeted that it had responded to 50 traffic calls and 57 tree-related calls, “significantly higher numbers than Florence.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were closed Thursday and UNC Charlotte canceled morning classes until 11:59 p.m. Thursday, in anticipation of potentially dangerous driving conditions. Mecklenburg County closed county offices at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
Duke Energy said about 400 line workers and support staff were arriving in Charlotte to help with repairs to Micheal’s damage. The incoming crews came from New York, Missouri, Texas and Canada. Duke has projected 300,000 to 500,000 power outages in the Carolinas.
The most significant risks for the region are flash flooding in the Interstate 77 corridor, including metro Charlotte, and potentially damaging winds, the weather service said. Gusts of 30 mph could reach Charlotte by about 2 p.m., and gusts above 39 mph — tropical storm strength — are possible, according to the weather service.
Iredell County declared a state of emergency in the afternoon due to “heavy rainfall, flooded roadways, and downed trees and power lines.”
Charlotte had been expected to get about 3.7 inches of rain Thursday, with about an inch more to the north and west in towns including Statesville, Gastonia and Salisbury. Minor flooding of the Catawba River, which flows west of Charlotte, is possible.
Charlotte’s shallow creeks, surrounded by dense development, rise quickly even in rains of 1 to 2 inches, flooding some roads and floodplains.
Tornado watches were issued overnight for upstate South Carolina counties including Chester, Union and York, just south of Charlotte. The slight tornado risks were expected to diminish by midday Thursday, but a day-long flash flood watch remained in effect across the region.
McDowell County, in the North Carolina foothills, declared a state of emergency in the morning because of extensive flash flooding as swift-water rescue teams were deployed and roadways flooded. A debris flow blocking part of a road was reported in Old Fort, and an emergency shelter opened in Marion.
Police in Boone reported flooded areas in the mountain town, with notices being delivered of potential evacuations.
Staff writer Cassie Cope contributed.
Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs