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2 from Charlotte area drown in Caldwell County floodwaters

By Elisabeth Arriero and Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
earriero@charlotteobserver.com cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

A 10-year-old girl and a 48-year-old man died in a Caldwell County creek over the weekend as heavy rains fell in the foothills, causing flash floods and power outages.

The body of Juan Alberdi of Huntersville was found about 2 p.m. Sunday in Wilson Creek, a popular recreation area that stretches for miles. The body of Delilah Lovett of Charlotte was recovered about 7 p.m. Saturday after being spotted by kayakers about three-quarters of a mile from where the pair had been swimming.

“They got caught in the real swift currents up here and disappeared,” said LouAnne Kincaid, a spokeswoman for Caldwell County.

Meanwhile on Sunday, families and business across Catawba and other hard-hit counties began cleaning up the mess left by heavy floods. But the trouble was just beginning for Gaston County residents Sunday afternoon, as flood waters continued to move down the Catawba River.

There was a bit of good news from the National Weather Service, where officials said Sunday that there will be little to no rain in the Charlotte region on Monday and Tuesday, giving the region a chance to dry slightly before heavy rains hit again on Wednesday.

Family outing turns deadly

Alberdi and Delilah were two members of a group that went to Wilson Creek – about 100 miles north of Charlotte – about 6 p.m. Saturday to swim. Alberdi and his two children were with a friend and her two children, including Delilah, Kincaid said.

Shortly after they arrived, Alberdi and Delilah went to swim in an area of the creek known locally as Lady on the Rock. They were swept away by swift currents soon after they got in, Kincaid said.

“Wilson Creek is a rapidly flowing river anyway,” said Kincaid. “It doesn’t take a lot of rain to get it moving really fast.”

Kincaid did not know if warning signs were posted in the area, but she said the county has been exploring the possibility of installing a siren that would sound when the creek reaches dangerous levels.

Recent rains in the immediate area – as well as in the Boone area – caused the creek to rise to about 2 feet above normal, Kincaid said.

“People who live around here know how rough the water gets with very little rain and how it changes suddenly,” she said.

The families searched for them for a short while before going to nearby Brown Mountain Beach campground to call 911.

Two kayakers found Delilah’s body in the water Saturday shortly after 7 p.m., Kincaid said.

Rescue crews searched until about 11 p.m. Saturday and then resumed the search about 8 a.m. Sunday. About 2:20 p.m. Sunday, crews found Alberdi’s body about a half-mile south of where the two went into the water.

Damaged roads, homes

As two families mourned, residents in Catawba and Lincoln counties recovered from dramatic overnight flooding.

Heavy rain pushed into the Charlotte area early Saturday afternoon, when a nearly stationary weather system dumped more than 12 inches of rain in some parts of Catawba, western Lincoln and northern Cleveland counties.

Lincolnton resident Tom Kulczyk was awakened just after midnight Sunday to his dogs barking at the rising waters of the South Fork River behind his house.

He went to sit outside in the darkness to observe the floods, which he said have been the worst he’s seen in years.

“It was pretty eerie sitting out in the dark near the river listening to all the cracking and crashing of the trees,” he said. “We lost eight trees at least. They’re gone. Swept right away.”

Kulczyk said that while his property did not sustain any damage, a service road behind his house flooded for the first time in the five years he’s lived there.

Catawba County spokesman Jim Dickerson said crews there were checking reports of damage to 130 homes and other buildings.

There were no reported injuries from the flash flooding, he said. Sections of at least six roads will remain closed for up to three months to repair damage, he said.

The county and the cities of Hickory and Newton – where dozens of streets were underwater Saturday afternoon – were among the communities that declared local emergencies as a precursor to seeking state and federal aid, assistant county emergency services director Mark Petit said.

Downstream

The heavy rain sent large volumes of water into streams and creeks that feed into the Catawba River.

High Shoals Lake reached a depth of 103.94 feet by 4 p.m. Saturday, which is just above the flood level of 103 feet. But by Sunday evening, the level was down to 100.89.

On Sunday afternoon, families gathered on a bridge on Laboratory Road in Lincoln County to watch the rushing waters, which flooded the nearby historical Laboratory Mill.

“It’s incredible,” said Marshall Greer. “Looking around at all these people, you know it’s a hot topic around here.”

In Gaston County, residents were just starting to see the worst of the floods on Sunday afternoon. By the evening, South Fork River was in a major flood stage, having risen from 6 feet on Saturday evening to 15.66 feet.

The river floods at 10 feet, National Weather Service meteorologist Doug Outlaw said.

“A lot of people are getting flooding in the McAdenville, Lowell area of Gaston County,” Outlaw said.

Showers and thunderstorms will return to the area on Wednesday, he said.

As of Sunday afternoon, July’s rain total at Charlotte Douglas International Airport was 7.33 inches, which Outlaw said was low when compared to the areas west of Charlotte.

Some parts of Catawba County, for instance, have received 15.25 inches this month.

Arriero: 704-358-5945; Twitter: @earriero
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