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Vicious Hurricane Dorian slows to a crawl, and that could be bad news for Carolinas

Hurricane Dorian gave hints Monday of what lies ahead for North Carolina, with the storm lashing “incessantly” at the Bahamas with 155 mph winds.

The timing of the storm’s impact on the Carolinas continues to be adjusted, but the latest forecast calls for winds in the 40 to 70 mph range to arrive in South Carolina by 8 p.m. Tuesday and in North Carolina by 8 a.m. Wednesday.

The Hyde County Board of Commissioners became the first coastal county to take action, enacting a State of Emergency on Monday morning. Residents were advised to review evacuation plans and be “prepared to take action if necessary.”

Late Monday afternoon, North Carolina officials say they expect far less rain or flooding from Hurricane Dorian than during Florence last year.

Katie Webster, a state meteorologist, said Dorian is expected to pick up its speed as it churns north along the East Coast. Webster thinks Dorian could drop 5 to 10 inches of rain on North Carolina, with points along the coast getting a foot or more. That’s about half the maximum rainfall totals during Florence last September.

Florence was blamed for 45 storm-related deaths in North Carolina and the National Hurricane Center lists it as causing $22 billion in damage.

Gov. Roy Cooper said he’s activated 300 members of the National Guard to help with preparations and storm response.

Dorian was 425 miles southeast of Charleston on Monday, with an eye that was 20 miles wide, according to the S.C. State Climate Office.

A potential landfall site continues to elude the National Hurricane Center, suggesting the storm could batter the East Coast for days as it passes at a sluggish 1 mph.

The slower it moves, the more wind and rain will pummel the North Carolina coast. Rain in the 2- to 4-inch range is expected in the central and western parts of the state. The rain will likely cause “minor or moderate flood stages” in the Cape Fear River, Black River, Northeast Cape Fear River and Waccamaw River.

Forecasters with the S.C. State Climate Office predict the storm’s winds will be reduced to around 100 mph by the time it parallels the South Carolina coast on Thursday. That would make Dorian a Category 2 storm.

Hurricane Dorian unleashed massive flooding across the Bahamas on Monday, pummeling the islands with so much wind and water that authorities urged people to find floatation devices and grab hammers to break out of their attics if necessary.

The fearsome Category 4 storm slowed almost to a standstill as it shredded roofs, hurled cars and killed at least five people.

“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said.

Forecasters believe Dorian’s eye will not pass the Outer Banks until 2 a.m. Friday, more than two days after the arrival of the first tropical force winds in the region.

The National Hurricane Center says Dorian is not forecast to make landfall along Florida, but “it is still possible for the hurricane to deviate from this forecast, and move very near or over the coast.”

The storm is expected to weaken along the coast, but will “remain a powerful hurricane during the next couple of days.”


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Globetrotting: N.C. Folk Festival attracts performers, spectators from all over the world

GREENSBORO — If the upcoming N.C. Folk Festival were to give an award for farthest distance traveled, Wu Opera Troupe of Yiwu City likely would take it home — to China.

When its 28 members fly in Friday, the Chinese opera troupe will have traveled for about 20 hours from the Zhejiang province.

Its four performances on Saturday and Sunday will offer a rare opportunity to see an elaborate, traditional art form from more than 7,000 miles away.

They illustrate in part what the free, three-day outdoor multicultural festival is all about.

From Friday through Sunday, the festival will bring in a variety of entertainment representing familiar and not-so-familiar genres.

“The diversity is one of the great things about the festival,” said Doryl Jensen, who works with UNCG’s International Programs Center and helped to bring the opera troupe from China.

“Each year, groups come not just from our local area and the U.S., but represent the breadth and depth and the cultural connectedness of the world of art and music,” Jensen said. “It’s a wonderful idea.”

Some performers come from within the city. Several will travel from Los Angeles, New York and Louisiana.

The band Lúnasa will come from Ireland.

Festival Director Amy Grossmann sees another benefit.

“Part of the story of the festival is about bringing people here and being very hospitable,” she said. “And they become ambassadors for Greensboro. They have a great time here in the community with our volunteers. Then they go tell their artist friends at other festivals, ‘Hey, have you ever been to that festival in Greensboro? You need to go there.’ It pays itself forward.”

The N.C. Folk Festival spun out of the National Folk Festival, which held a three-year residency in the city from 2015 to 2017 and drew more than 400,000 people to downtown.

More than 150,000 people attended the inaugural N.C. Folk Festival in 2018.

Audiences usually come from closer to home.

Each year, organizers have collected surveys seeking ZIP codes of spectators.

They found that 40 percent hail from the Triad, Grossmann said.

Another 12 percent each come from the Charlotte metro area and the Triangle. Seven percent come from southwest Virginia.

The remainder come from all over: eastern North Carolina, South Carolina, Richmond, Va., and the Washington area.

“We definitely want to attract audience members from across the state and beyond,” Grossmann said.

To do that, the festival works to recruit diverse, appealing entertainment.

Grossmann formed a programming committee to discuss priorities.

Several acts hail from within the city: N.C. A&T’s Cold Steel Drumline and Fellowship Gospel Choir, the UNCG Pep Band, bands Reliably Bad and The Alley Rabbits, and dancer Dom-Sebastian among them.

The programming committee surveyed the city’s international communities about their music and artist preferences.

Thanks to recommendations, the festival hired Indian and Pakistani singer Kiran Ahluwalia to perform this year.

“She’s someone who is very rooted in the vocal traditions of that region and has put a contemporary spin on her music,” Grossmann said.

Born in India, Ahluwalia spent childhood years in Toronto, Canada. She now lives in New York.

Like Ahluwalia, other performers now live in the United States, but draw on traditions of their native countries.

While they aren’t necessarily household names, they are well-known within their genres.

Ricardo Lemvo was born in northern Angola in Africa. Now he lives in Los Angeles, and performs a blend of African and Cuban music with the band Makina Loca.

Andre Veloz performs Bachata, a genre of Latin American music that originated in the Dominican Republic where she grew up.

Now she’s an American citizen who lives in New York.

Some performers represent artistic traditions home-grown within American communities.

From Louisiana, Steve Riley and the Racines will mix Cajun, Creole, blues and swamp pop music.

The Allen Boys are North Carolina’s only Sacred Steel band. Hailing from a small church in Mt. Airy, they play in a style of religious music found in select African American Pentecostal-Holiness churches.

The appearances of Wu Opera Troupe of Yiwu City result from a festival partnership with UNCG.

Jensen and Cai Tang of Greensboro made it happen.

Although retired from teaching at UNCG, Jensen works with its International Programs Center. Both he and Tang know performers from China and elsewhere.

Last year, they arranged for singers, dancers and musicians from Inner Mongolia to perform at the folk festival.

Jensen saw “joy and happiness” as he watched last year’s audiences, he said.

He expects the same this year with Wu Opera Troupe of Yiwu City.

The troupe will travel with representatives of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

Wu Opera is an art form of traditional Chinese theater that combines music, vocal performance, dance and martial arts.

It grew from performances during the 16th and 17th centuries in public squares — not in major opera houses, Jensen said.

Performers will don elaborate costumes to perform short segments from five traditional operas.

After the festival, the troupe will perform Monday at UNCG and Tuesday at Guilford College.

“If we can just enjoy the beauty of artistry from different cultures in different parts of the world,” Jensen said, “we are all better off.”


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As Dorian looms, N.C. Folk Festival preparations proceed

GREENSBORO — N.C. Folk Festival organizers have their eyes on the sky and weather forecasts as Hurricane Dorian makes its way up the coast.

Preparations continue for the outdoor multicultural festival, which begins Friday.

The National Weather Service is calling for a chance of rain on Wednesday night and Thursday, but sunny Friday through Sunday during the festival. The festival “is a rain or shine event,” Director Amy Grossmann said in an email. “Performances will go on in light rain, so we encourage festivalgoers to carry umbrellas and ponchos.”

No scheduled performers had canceled their plans as of Sunday. “We are monitoring the weather forecast to determine what, if any, preemptive actions ... may be necessary,” she said.


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Report: Guilford, Forsyth see increases in opioid-related deaths

Guilford and Forsyth counties experienced increases in the number of opioid-related deaths during 2018, while other parts of the state had sizable decreases.

The latest report from N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, released last week, found that Guilford County’s death rate rose from 99 to 102 in 2018.

Meanwhile, Forsyth County had 84 opioid-related deaths, up from 74 in 2017 and 55 in both 2016 and 2015.

It is the highest annual death toll for Forsyth since DHHS began disclosing death statistics in 1999.

Among the state’s five main metro areas for 2018: Durham County had 33 opioid-related deaths (down 17.5%), Mecklenburg County had 153 (down 14.5%) and Wake County had 91 (down 25.4%).

“It is important to remember everyone can help combat the crisis by speaking with their doctors about prescribed medication and taking the medication responsibly, locking up your medication, safely disposing of your medication and supporting community-wide harm reduction efforts,” said Joshua Swift, director of Forsyth Department of Public Health.

Guilford and Forsyth also went against an overall statewide decrease from 2,006 to 1,785. That’s a 5% decline — the first in five years. There was a statewide average of 4.9 deaths per day, down from 5.5 deaths per day in 2017.

“Opioid overdose deaths and emergency department visits are two key metrics set forth in our Opioid Action Plan,” Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary, said in a statement. “Efforts to improve outcomes in those areas are clearly showing a positive impact. “While this is a significant achievement, we know far too many North Carolina families are still suffering.”

The 14-county region that covers the Triad and northwest North Carolina had 379 opioid-related deaths in 2018 — a 4.3% decline from 396 in 2017.

Forsyth’s opioid-related death count was consistent throughout 2018, with 22 fatalities in the first, second and fourth quarters, and 18 in the third quarter.

DHHS said the state’s hospital emergency department visits for opioid-related overdoses declined nearly 10% from 2017 to 2018.

Bridget Bridgman, senior director of medication safety and outcomes for Novant Health Inc., said the system’s opioid-reduction initiative includes “using multiple forms of pain therapy to reduce opioid prescribing and providing better pain relief, as well as improving access to behavioral health services through outpatient assessment centers.

“We’ve also been committed to ending the stigma associated with substance-use disorder by choosing clinically accurate, compassionate and person-first words to ensure our patients and community members feel like they can easily access treatment, reach recovery and live healthier lives.”

Elizabeth Shilling, assistant director of Wake Forest Baptist Health’s Addiction Research and Clinical Health program, said the overall statewide decline “is the direct result of the tremendous efforts by DHHS, the N.C. Healthcare Foundation, the Attorney General’s program, More Powerful NC and many others.”

“This decline highlights that prevention and treatment for substance use disorders work, and that when we provide continued attention and funding for treatment we save lives.”

More work

Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement that the annual decline in unintentional opioid-related deaths represents “a major milestone for North Carolina, but the figures show we have much more work to do to keep people healthy and alive.”

“Medicaid expansion is the easiest and most effective step our state can take to continue our fight against this deadly disease,” Cooper said. Cooper’s main legislative agenda priority is expanding state Medicaid program to between 450,000 to 650,000 North Carolinians.

Cooper vetoed the Republican state budget compromise on June 28, citing the lack of Medicaid expansion and lower public school educator raises than in his budget proposal.

With GOP legislative leaders, foremost Senate leader Phil Berger of Eden, refusing to address Medicaid expansion, the budget stalemate entered Day 68 on Monday. The legislature is in recess until Sept. 9.

Cooper signed the Opioid Epidemic Response Act in July.

The law removes the ban on use of state funds to purchase syringe exchange program supplies, decriminalizes the possession of fentanyl tests strips that allow people to test drugs for dangerous contaminants and increases access to office-based opioid treatment.

Primary goals

DHHS is tracking data on five primary goals: reducing deaths; reducing oversupply of prescription opioids; reducing drug diversion and illicit drug flow; increasing naloxone access; and increasing access to treatment and recovery services.

More than 454 million opioid pills were dispensed to North Carolinians during 2018, or about 44 for each resident. That was down from 523.5 million in 2018, or about 52 for each resident.

About 14.14 million opioid pills were dispensed in Forsyth in 2018, down from 20.2 million in 2017. For the Triad and northwestern counties, there were 89.89 million opioid pills dispensed in 2018.

State health officials said opioid-overdose deaths typically are “due to the increase in potent illicit drugs, like heroin and fentanyl (and fentanyl analogues).” Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid.

In February 2018, Forsyth officials filed a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors. Other groups that have filed similar lawsuits include Winston-Salem and Davidson, Davie, Stokes, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes and Yadkin counties.

Defendants typically have been more than 20 drug manufacturers, distributors and their subsidiaries, including Cardinal Health Inc. of Dublin, Ohio, which has a distribution center in Greensboro; McKesson Corp. of San Francisco, whose registered agent is Corporation Service Co. of Raleigh; and Amerisourcebergen Drug Corp. of Chesterbrook, Pa.

The lawsuit alleges the companies used a number of methods to deceptively market opioid medication, such as oxycodone, and provided misleading or false information about how addictive the drugs could become. The companies marketed those drugs to vulnerable communities, such as the elderly and veterans, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also alleges that the companies found ways around restrictions imposed under settlements with the U.S. government to stop deceptive marketing.

This was done through organizations such as the American Pain Association and through doctors who continued to push opioid medications and minimize the risks of addiction, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also said that companies engaged in an illegal racketeering scheme to promote opioids and ignored suspiciously high orders of opioid prescriptions that would have indicated that there was an illegal market for the drugs.

As a result, the companies reaped huge profits while opioid addiction ravaged counties, such as Forsyth.

“In 1999, our county experienced, unfortunately, five opiate-related deaths,” Dave Plyler, chairman of the Forsyth Board of Commissioners, said in a news release about the lawsuit. “Then in 2016, we experienced 55 such deaths. That’s a 1,000% increase in opiate-related deaths, not to mention the 456 deaths in the years between.”

Plyler said the opioid crisis has a huge impact on law-enforcement, the county’s departments of social services and health and resources for mental health.

On Friday, Plyler said there have been days recently when multiple individuals have been reported as dying from an opioid overdose.

“It used to be three a month,” Plyler said, “without the necessary resources, this county is under attack from opioids.”