Heavy rain close some roads; stranded motorists rescued

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE
Posted 11/22/18

Last week’s heavy rainfall tested the capacity of the three rivers running through Chatham County, resulting in flooding of some roadways. The rain further saturated the region in what officials say has been a notably wet year.

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Heavy rain close some roads; stranded motorists rescued

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Last week’s heavy rainfall tested the capacity of the three rivers running through Chatham County, resulting in flooding of some roadways.

The rain further saturated the region in what officials say has been a notably wet year.

“Except for a few weeks in the early summer, we’ve had a very consistently wet year,” observed Alan Byrd, Chatham County’s emergency management coordinator. “The ground just can’t soak it all up.”

Though the county last week experienced “minimal road flooding,” Byrd said, portions of several roads in the southeastern part of the county were closed by flooding.

Florence, in September, dumped 8 trillion gallons of rain on North Carolina and while the rain system that swept across the state last week brought far less water, it brought it to a region still saturated by Florence and Hurricane Michael a couple of weeks later.

Last Wednesday, seven firefighters from the Goldston Fire Department responded to an OnStar emergency notification of a car stuck in water on Alton King Road, off U.S. 421 south of Goldston.

Gene Harris, chief of the Goldston Fire Department, said within five minutes of the call, firefighters reached the car and its passengers by boat, rescuing two people and a dog.
The driver, a courier delivering a package for an automobile company, had driven into the water near “road closed” signs at about 8:30 p.m., he said.

“We got them out and brought them back to the fire station,” Harris said.

Harris noted his department regularly trains for such rescue calls. It’s come in handy: this year, with back-to-back hurricanes and the additional rain last week, his department has done “about seven” water rescues, instead of the typical one or two a year.

The N.C. Highway Patrol reported an increase in cases of motorists hydroplaning and running off of roadways, but not an unusual number of such incidents, according to 1st Sgt. Charles Genaudeau of the patrol’s Siler City office.

In addition to Alton King Road, flooding was reported by the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office on portions of several roads in southeastern Chatham County: Goldston Carbonton Road, N.C. 42 and N.C. 87 near the Chatham/Lee county line, Plank Road, Rosser Road, R. Jordan Road, Everette Dowdy Road, and Farmville Coal Mine Road.

Jeremiah Drive, near Lystra Road in northern Chatham County, also saw some flooding.
Nine residents on Jeremiah Drive also were warned by county officials that the area would likely flood, Byrd said.

The road is frequently subject to flooding, he said, noting the residents who live there have “adapted.”

“We’ve had some flooding in low-lying areas close to the rivers, especially in the southern part of the county near the Deep River,” Byrd said. “Some of the same areas affected by Hurricane Florence, but we’ve had nothing as widespread as Florence.”

As rain slackened last Thursday, Byrd noted that improvements in flood conditions were already improving. The Haw River at Bynum, for instance, had risen to 17 feet but by Thursday “had dropped down considerably since then.”

Meanwhile, N.C. Department of Transportation Resident Engineer Garry Phillips was busy dealing with another consequence of heavy rains and swollen rivers: removing logs and debris from bridges.

“It’s bad right now,” he said. “We have logjams about on every bridge.”

That includes Deep River bridges on U.S. 421 and U.S. 15-501. Phillips said DOT crews would begin clearing the jams as soon as possible.

At Jordan Lake, officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the reservoir, were keeping an eye on water levels in the aftermath of the rains last week.
On Sunday, the corps began releasing water in increments that would not increase previous downstream river stages, said Daniel Emerson of the Corps of Engineers’ Wilmington office.

“We do not release water such that the dam operation does not surpass the initial flood peaks downstream” Emerson said. “Our intent is to ‘follow’ behind the high river stages and not make high water effects worse than the initial high water.”

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