Save Money in this Sunday's paper

comments

Storms bring city's worst flooding in nearly two years

By Steve Lyttle, Neil Haggerty and Cleve R. Wootson
slyttle@charlotteobserver.com

A slow-moving thunderstorm dropped a month’s worth of rain Thursday morning on northwest Mecklenburg County, causing the worst flooding in at least two years.

Thursday was the 19th day in a row when rain fell somewhere in the county. Rain is likely again Friday and Saturday, although less is expected. The threat of heavy rain returns Sunday.

Emergency management officials warned the public against venturing into floodwater.

“Most of our fatalities occur when people play in high water after the initial flooding,” Charlotte Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Dulin said, adding that concern is higher because children are on break from school.

The American Red Cross opened a shelter at Northwest School of the Arts on Beatties Ford Road, and Mecklenburg County officials closed at least three parks because of the flood danger.

For the water-logged Charlotte region, it was yet another soggy chapter in one of the city’s rainiest summers on record.

Flash flooding has washed out dozens of roads in the area since late last month, and some parts of Mecklenburg County have received more than 15 inches of rain since June 1 – three times the average.

Thursday’s deluge moved into northwest Mecklenburg about 9 a.m. More than 4.3 inches of rain was recorded in a two-hour period at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities office on Brookshire Boulevard, and several other locations in northwest Mecklenburg reported 2 to 4 inches. July averages 3.63 inches for the entire month.

“The ground already was saturated, and the water had nowhere else to go,” Dulin said.

Creek floods, homes muddy

Stewart Creek and its tributaries flooded quickly, covering Morgan and Sinclair streets. Charlotte firefighters went door to door, offering help as water crept toward houses. At a home-based day care, adults carried children to safety across flooded roads.

A Charlotte Area Transit System bus was sent to the neighborhood, so displaced residents could seek shelter.

A bit farther downstream, the creek flooded near the University Park Apartments on Southwest Boulevard.

Brianna Mills was in her apartment with her 9-month-old son and didn’t pay much attention initially because rain has been so frequent. Then she noticed the parking lot next to her apartment was filling with muddy water.

“Once the rescue people started coming to evacuate us, the water started raging in,” Mills said. “My whole kitchen is just muddy, and my carpets are pretty much just wet.”

Charlotte fire officials said they rescued about 50 people, and Tim Trautman of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services said about five houses were flooded on Prince Road – not far from the Southwest Boulevard apartments.

To the east of Brookshire Boulevard, another part of Stewart Creek flooded Margaret Turner and Caldwell Williams roads, off Old Plank Road. Several residents in houses off Old Plank Road were evacuated, the county reported.

High water also covered neighborhoods along Statesville Road. A hazardous materials team was called out to Oakdale Road, when high water damaged a fuel tank at a business and caused a spill.

As the stormwater moved downstream, so did the problems.

Complaints near uptown

West Trade Street was closed around noon. Frazier Park in uptown was partially flooded by early afternoon, and Revolution Golf Course was underwater by 1 p.m.

Marian Bryant watched water flood Bryant Park, near West Morehead Street and Freedom Drive, early Thursday afternoon. Bryan, who used to live nearby, said the park and a nearby bridge flood at least twice a year .

“It’s been a problem long enough that they should be able to have some engineers come and improve the drainage,” Bryant said. “If this area was in Ballantyne, this wouldn’t be allowed.”

The Revolution Park golf course was also mostly underwater and low-lying areas of nearby Barringer Drive were blocked off by police.

There also was flooding on Little Sugar Creek, with water surging out of the banks near Freedom Park, south of uptown.

Thursday also illustrated another trait of Charlotte’s persistent rain pattern: Despite the flooding for some, other areas enjoyed a mostly dry day. Parts of southeastern Mecklenburg recorded less than one-tenth of an inch.

Sharon Foote of Storm Water Services said northwest Charlotte also was the scene of the last significant high-water event, on Aug. 5, 2011.

Foote said Mecklenburg County is especially prone to flooding because it sits on a ridge line, dividing the Catawba River watershed in the southwest two-thirds of the county from the Pee Dee-Yadkin basin in the northeast third. Those ridges have gentle slopes and plenty of creeks.

“In fact, there are about 80 named streams in the county and 3,000 miles of waterways,” Foote said. “Some of those 2-foot-wide streams are 20 feet wide after heavy thunderstorms. They pick up water as they move away from the ridge.”

She said that was the case Thursday, as raging tributaries fed into Stewart Creek and others.

What lies ahead

Jennifer Franklin, regional communications director for the Red Cross, said about eight people registered to stay overnight at the shelter. She said more than 20 units at the University Park apartments were affected by the flooding.

National Weather Service meteorologist Doug Outlaw said the weak cold front and atmospheric disturbance responsible for Thursday’s flood will be in Eastern North Carolina on Friday. “That should lessen the amount of storm activity in the Charlotte area, but the front will be close enough that a few showers and storms are possible,” he said.

By Saturday night and Sunday, Outlaw said, the front is forecast to push back toward the west. At the same time, the remnants of Tropical Storm Chantal are predicted to be moving into the Carolinas.

“We’ll be looking at an enhanced threat of flooding again,” Outlaw said.

A separate flood situation continued Thursday along Mountain Island Lake, which was 2.5 feet above full pond. Duke Energy said the lake might climb to 3 feet above full pond and said it does not expect the water to drop much for the next few days.

A number of docks and yards along the lake are flooded, as they have been for most of the week. The high water is the result of heavy rain that fell late last weekend in the North Carolina . mountains.

Water levels for Lake Norman and Lake Wylie are higher than usual but are not expected to surpass full pond, according to Duke Energy, which manages the water in the Catawba River and its lakes.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more



Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more


Quick Job Search
Salary Databases
Your 2 Cents
Share your opinion with our Partners
Learn More