RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Ophelia was no Katrina.

But in a post-Katrina world, the hurricane’s mere existence was enough to provoke a pumped-up state and federal response.

“They were very prepared, and possibly overprepared for this,” East Carolina University political scientist Carmine Scavo said Friday as Ophelia cleared the Outer Banks. The storm did considerably less damage than feared.

“I really do believe that overpreparedness will be the rule in the future, at least for hurricanes where we know what the damage might be and what we can do about it,” he added.

Gov. Mike Easley declared a state of emergency last Saturday – three full days before the outer bands of Ophelia began blowing onto the state’s southeastern coast.

And a day before the storm approached, 300 National Guard members were sent to eastern North Carolina and 200 Federal Emergency Management Agency workers were in the state. In an unusual move, Washington sent a Coast Guard admiral to serve as the “principal federal official” should the storm do extensive damage.

Coming just two weeks after a sluggish government mobilization that saw New Orleans descend into chaos and despair, there was nothing but praise for the response in North Carolina.

“They’ve been on top of everything that we’ve asked for,” said Allen Smith, emergency services director in coastal Carteret County.

By Friday, FEMA’s designated principal federal official, Rear Adm. Brian Peterman was headed out of state and the agency was beginning to demobilize its work force, which topped out at 474 people.

The storm’s next stop was a possible collision with the coast of southern New England. A tropical storm warning was posted Friday for the coast of southeastern Massachusetts, including Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Earlier warnings for the Rhode Island coast were dropped.

Easley and FEMA’s onsite coordinator for Ophelia said officials had more time to prepare for the storm because of its slow progress – it arrived Tuesday afternoon and didn’t head out to sea until late Thursday.

“The good news is that we were able to marshal more forces. The bad news was that the waiting was about to kill us,” said Shelley Boone, the Raleigh-based FEMA team leader.

Easley praised FEMA’s assistance, even if the storm’s impact turned out to be somewhat anticlimactic. “Everything we’ve asked them for, they’ve given us,” he said.

North Carolina’s storm response has been tested repeatedly in the last decade by large hurricanes such as Fran in 1996, Floyd in 1999 and Isabel in 2003.

And Easley is a storm veteran, with political observers having long noted the Democrat’s comfort in crisis settings. The post-disaster helicopter flyover, followed by an on-the-ground meeting with local officials to offer reassurance and support, has become a staple Easley event.

On Thursday, clad in a polo shirt embroidered with his name, Easley choppered to Wilmington for a recovery briefing, shaking hands with friends and cautioning officials not to reopen a small local bridge until they get engineers to examine it.

The post-Katrina attention to disaster response plays to Easley’s strength, said N.C. State University political scientist Andy Taylor.

“People all over the government are highly sensitized to their response to natural disaster,” he said. “Gov. Easley is no different.”

AP-ES-09-17-05 0232EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.