A relentless series of thunderstorms dropped massive amounts of rain northwest of Charlotte on Saturday morning, setting off what meteorologists said was a major flash flood event.
The heavy rain is gradually pushing eastward and could affect the immediate Charlotte area within a few hours.
A flash flood watch is in effect until midnight for Mecklenburg and nearby counties in both states. Flash flood warnings are posted at midday for numerous counties west of Charlotte.
Justin Lane, of the National Weather Services office in Greer, S.C., said late Saturday morning that the area of heavy showers and thunderstorms is pushing gradually to the east. Within that area, storms continue to reform and move southwest to northeast along the line.
The heavy rainfall will pose a threat of severe urban flooding along and near the I-77 corridor, including the Charlotte metro area, Lane said.
Hickory police reported major flooding of streets in parts of the city, and dozens of roads were under water late Saturday morning in parts of Catawba and Lincoln counties.
Catawba County emergency management issued a statement shortly after 10 a.m., advising residents, Please stay home and dont drive. Many, many roads are under water and dangerous.
And the foothills flooding threatens to cause a major rise on the Catawba River, possibly setting off another round of flooding on Mountain Island and Lookout Shoals lakes, as was the case earlier this month.
Up to 10 inches of rain has fallen in some parts of the area since 4 a.m., meteorologists say. But there were unofficial reports of more than a foot of rain coming down since early morning.
The situation appears to be worsening.
Late Saturday morning, the National Weather Service extended flash flood warnings from Catawba and Lincoln counties into neighboring areas such as Cleveland, Alexander, Iredell, Wilkes and Watauga counties. The slow-moving heavy storms are pushing into the northwest North Carolina mountains, threatening to set off flash flooding in areas where many campers are staying on this summer weekend.
Terry Grayson, a Cleveland County resident, tweeted a photo shortly before noon Saturday of raging water near St. Paul Road in the northern part of the county. Grayson said the creek normally is a few inches deep.
The flooding and poor road conditions are blamed on a serious wreck that closed several lanes of Interstate 40 west of Hickory. The N.C. Highway Patrol says it hopes to have I-40 reopened by midday, although some lanes were open to traffic at 11:45 a.m. Saturday.
Police in Newton said at 11 a.m. that authorities were in the midst of several water rescues. Emergency management officials said several rescues were under way on Keisler Road, east of Newton. Similar rescues were being reported in Conover, Hickory and near Vale in Lincoln County.
The heaviest rain so far has fallen in central and western Catawba County and in western Lincoln County.
The Weather Services Lane said between 8 and 10 inches of rain fell in that region between 4 and 9 a.m. More than 3 inches fell in an hour, between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m., near Hickory.
Authorities in Lincoln County said several roads were washed out near Vale. There also were reports of between 2 and 3 feet of water covering roads in that area.
Lyttle: 704-358-6107. Twitter: @slyttle
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