Several stores and restaurants at SouthPark mall are reopening Saturday after a torrential rainfall apparently caused a partial roof collapse at the shopping center.
But most of the stores at one of the region's top shopping destinations will remain closed, as authorities assess the damage.
The mall was closed Friday evening after a portion of the roof fell in and surprised shoppers fled the sudden indoor flood. Some mall employees said debris-filled water rose past their ankles as they ran. No injuries were reported.
Later in the evening, mall officials said department stores Belk, Dillard's, Macy's, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom would be back open on Saturday, along with Dick's Sporting Goods and The Container Store.
Maggiano's, Cheesecake Factory, City Tavern and McCormick & Schmicks also are expected to reopen, according to announcements on the mall's social media pages, and its telephone shopping line. And officials at Arthur's Restaurant and Wine, inside the Belk store, say they also will be open.
In addition, shops and restaurants located in The Village at SouthPark such as Crate and Barrel will open, the mall said.
It was not immediately known when the rest of the mall will open.
Charlotte fire crews are checking sprinkler and alarm systems to help determine whether additional stores can resume business. But the entire mall can't reopen until an engineer retained by the mall can do an investigation to determine why the roof collapsed and what repairs will be made, said Jim Bartl, the county's code enforcement director.
Many shoppers were surprised and confused to find the mall closed Saturday. No signs were posted on the exterior of the mall explaining the closure, though some department stores, which were open Saturday, put up signs inside saying the mall was closed. Mall officials also have been using Twitter and Facebook to send updates.
Inside the mall, clean-up crews worked to get water out of corridors. Chairs usually filled with tired shoppers were stacked together, and dozens of fans helped dry the floors.
Meanwhile, meteorologists say another round of thunderstorms with torrential rain is likely Saturday afternoon and evening.
The worst of Fridays storm appears to have hit south Charlotte. WCNC-TV, the Observers news partner, reported more than 31/2 inches of rain fell near SouthPark between 4:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m.
The scene at the mall was chaotic shortly before 6 p.m., with a half-dozen fire and emergency trucks parked around the entrance to the food court. Traffic jammed roads around the mall as people tried to leave, and police and mall security ordered everyone off the property.
The Charlotte Fire Departments urban search-and-rescue team was at the mall Friday evening with a structural engineer to assess the building. Officials with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management Office said via Twitter that there was significant damage to multiple stores.
Cellphone pictures posted on Twitter showed brown water flowing down one of SouthParks main corridors. Many people were confused when the collapse started and described frightening moments. One woman who said she worked at the Lacoste store said she thought there had been a shooting when she saw mobs of people running past the store screaming.
2 holes seen from above
Several witnesses said they thought the collapse began near the food court. Winnie Cleary, 17, was working at the Häagen-Dazs ice cream store in the food court when she said she noticed the roof leaking and the smell of smoke.
Our manager yelled, Get out! We looked around the corner and saw water rushing at us, she said. We could see debris in the water.
Another mall employee, Maggie Johnson, said she was working at the Baby Grocery Store kiosk near the food court when she smelled smoke.
It was like that plastic-burning smoke, said Johnson, 18. Then she saw the roof begin to fall and what looked like ashes and charred parts of the ceiling coming down.
Water began flooding in, and was quickly past her ankles. Johnson said she tried to throw a plastic cover over the cash register and kiosk, but people were yelling to get out. A man tried to help her, she said, but they were soon pushed out by the crowd.
WCNC-TVs AirStar 36 helicopter showed two holes in the malls roof. Shoppers said some of the vehicles parked in the basement area of the mall had several inches of water in them.
Violeta Perez, 19, and her sister, Heidi, were walking out of the Gap store when the roof collapsed, the teen said.
My sister had just paid for the clothes. We walked out and we heard a scary sound. Everyone was running everywhere, said Violeta Perez, adding that the lights inside the Gap stores went off. It was really loud, Perez said, adding that the collapse sounded like a large bookshelf tumbling down.
SouthPark management issued a short statement Friday night. This afternoon, roof damage occurred at SouthPark in Charlotte resulting in flooding in some areas of the mall. SouthPark is currently closed and will remain closed this evening, the statement read.
Mall officials referred all further inquiries to the Charlotte Fire Department.
SouthPark mall, built in 1970 and since expanded, has had previous problems. In 2007, part of the top level of the parking deck near the Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom stores collapsed after being struck by a car. The woman driving the car died, due to what authorities said was a medical condition that preceded the crash.
In 2010, flooding was also reported in SouthPark during a heavy rainstorm, according to WCNC-TV.
More flooding nearby
On Friday, the mess wasnt limited to the mall. Flooding was also reported in other neighborhoods. About two miles south of the mall, four houses were flooded by rising water from a creek along Johnny Cake Lane in the Mountainbrook neighborhood.
Ramona Hagler said she looked out her window over her backyard as the rain fell, and 15 minutes later, the water had surrounded her home. She escaped out the front, wading through water at least 31/2 feet deep.
It was like lakefront property, she said. All you could see is water.
More unstable weather could be on the way.
A weak cold front is predicted to move into the Carolinas and stall Saturday, before dissipating early next week. That front, coupled with the presence of hot and humid air and the arrival of a few weak low pressure areas this weekend, will serve as the trigger for thunderstorm activity.
On Saturday, showers and storms could develop at any time, although afternoon and evening will be the most likely periods for precipitation.
More showers and storms are predicted for Sunday, although the coverage is expected to be less than on Saturday.
Staff writers Meghan Cooke, Carmen Cusido, April Bethea and Chelsey Dulaney contributed.