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Heavy rains cause Catawba River flooding

By Joe Marusak, Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Cameron Steele
jmarusak@charlotteobserver.com

Emergency officials warned Catawba River residents Tuesday to remain vigilant through the night for rising waters caused by the week’s heavy rains.

Floodwaters blocked a road in Charlotte and firefighters went door to door warning people about flooding. About 90 homes across Mecklenburg and Catawba counties were directly affected by the flooding, Charlotte firefighters said. Fifty-three of those homes were in Charlotte, and 10 families were evacuated.

Duke Energy cut the power to about 30 homes at risk of flooding in the Riverside community of northwest Charlotte.

The American Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at Cook’s Memorial Presbyterian Church on Mount Holly-Huntersville Road for affected residents. Emergency officials answered questions from several concerned residents at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the church.

Riverside resident Paul Angeles, 55, attended the meeting to find out when he could expect the water, which had flooded the downstairs of his house, to recede.

“You just want to cry,” Angeles told reporters after the meeting. “If it wasn’t so bad, I would.”

Water raced downstream after mountain counties received up to 7 inches of rain Monday. Nearly a dozen landslides near Asheville were blamed on the rains, and roads near the French Broad River remained closed because of high water. Several roads across the mountains remain closed after landslides, and one of the slides killed a railroad worker.

Charlotte received 1.6 inches of rain, breaking a precipitation record for the day.

The flooding reached its maximum level just after 5 p.m. Tuesday, Charlotte Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Dulin told reporters at a news conference.

“But it will stay at this level for some time,” Dulin said.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police reported Tuesday that the 1400 block of Riverside Drive was closed. The street is just a few feet from the river.

“Our plea to the people who live in this area is to leave before it gets worse,” a Charlotte Fire Department official said.

Duke Energy, meanwhile, raised Mountain Island Lake’s level to 104 feet Tuesday – 4 feet over full pond. That was expected to cause levels on Mountain Island Lake and Lake Wylie, south of the Mountain Island Dam, to continue to rise, Gaston County Police Capt. W.S. Melton said.

The National Weather Service in Greenville-Spartanburg issued a flood warning for a dam release to include eastern Gaston until 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, and more precipitation was predicted, he said.

Melton advised boaters, including canoeists and kayakers, to stay out of the water because of rapid currents.

Cathy Roche of the Mountain Island Lake Marine Commission said docks and boats floated away and debris was caught under the N.C. 16 bridge.

Some areas of the upper Catawba River got 11 inches of rain or more over three days, requiring Duke Energy’s hydro-operations team to move significant amounts of water through the river’s 225 miles and chain of 11 reservoirs and 13 hydroelectric stations, said Randy Herrin, general manager of Duke Energy’s hydro fleet.

“We received about three months of rain in three days in the upper Catawba River Basin,” he said.

Some streams and tributaries flowed at 50 to 100 times their normal volumes of water, Herrin said.

Duke managed the river by passing water through engineered spillways or floodgates at all the lakes it manages along the Catawba, except Lake Wateree, although the company expected Wateree to spill sometime early Wednesday, Herrin said.

Duke Energy also was operating all available hydro units, Herrin said. Upstream, Lake James, Lake Rhodhiss, Lake Hickory and Lookout Shoals Lake were stabilizing and the lake levels were beginning to lower, he said.

The city of Newton on Tuesday reported several sewer overflows because of Monday’s heavy rains: 36,270 gallons at 1432 N.C. 10 West into Hildebrand Creek; 12,090 gallons at 922 W. First St. into Hildebrand Creek and 7,650 gallons at 1857 Burris Road into McLain Creek.

On Monday, Catawba County declared a state of emergency. The flooding damaged more than 35 homes in the northern and eastern parts of the county.

Ridge Street in Claremont was hardest hit, with water standing 5 to 6 feet in some homes, Emergency Management Coordinator Karyn Yaussy said.

Near Claremont, Lance Carroll assessed damage Tuesday to his four-bedroom house on Lookout Shoals Lake. Water stood 6 to 8 inches inside before receding.

“The yard is still underwater,” said Carroll, 35, a self-employed computer technician.

In his 30 years there, Carroll said, “this is the quickest I’ve ever seen it come up. And it’s the highest I’ve ever seen it.”

About 7 a.m. Monday, when Carroll and his wife took their 12-year-old daughter to school, the lake water was rising but hadn’t gotten into the yard.

By noon, the water was creeping up to the front steps.

Carroll started packing clothes and other items into his Honda Civic. When he drove off about 2:15 p.m., water was over the car hood. “A couple of times it slowed me down,” Carroll said. “But by the grace of God I made it through.”

Gaston County emergency management officials said high water near Riverside Drive in McAdenville got into some yards but that no homes were threatened.

In neighboring Cramerton, the South Fork River flooded Riverside Park and portions of Goat Island Park, Town Manager Michael Peoples said. Duke Energy disconnected power to the park Monday afternoon.

At Floyd & Blackie’s Coffeehouse & Ice Cream on Eighth Street in Cramerton, co-owner Greg Ramsey said the normally lazy South Fork River about 50 yards from his business looked “like whitewater.” Logs zipped by in water moving 10 to 15 mph, he said.

Ramsey, who also runs a canoe/kayak business named the Floating Goat, moved canoes from racks behind his shop Monday because of high water. A steady steam of people stopped to see the raging river.

“Traffic was constant,” Ramsey said. “Business was good because of it.”

The flooding “caused a lot of wildlife displacement,” he said. “I saw a lot of snakes on the move, and beaver and deer.”

Ramsey said volunteers will work May 17 to clean up debris on and near Goat Island.

The Associated Press and staff writer Joe DePriest, staff photographer Davie Hinshaw and WCNC-TV contributed.

Marusak: 704-987-3670; Twitter: @jmarusak
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