The Charlotte region began to dry out Wednesday from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay, which dumped up to 11 inches of rain, leaving hundreds of homes flood-damaged or evacuated, streets under water and schools closed.
The flooding, some of the most damaging in recent years, was worst in areas east of Interstate 77 and south of I-85.
Hard-hit Cabarrus County, where about 60 structures were damaged and 11 roads remained impassable Wednesday night, declared a state of emergency. That paves the way for property owners to claim federal flood-damage money.
But no injuries were reported, and the receding water left behind a gift: the likelihood of marked improvement in a drought now in its second year.
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In Charlotte, firefighters began rescuing stranded drivers at 2 a.m. on Wednesday. They would make at least 35 rescues.
By 4 a.m., automated rain gauges signaled rising water in Briar Creek. The surge forced authorities to close East Independence Boulevard, Albemarle Road and Central Avenue at times during the morning rush hour.
Firefighters went door-to-door at the often-flooded Doral and Cavalier apartments on Monroe Road as Briar's waters submerged cars in the parking lot. About 200 people were evacuated.
Floods have caused more than $12 million in damage to the apartments since 1995. The county bought the Cavalier portion of the complex early this summer as part of its program to remove flood-prone structures, said Tim Troutman, the county's flood-mitigation manager. About 150 families have not yet been relocated, although 30 tenants had moved out.
Huddled later at a shelter at East Mecklenburg High School, four-year resident Francine Kenion said she'd been warned.
“They said it floods there, and I said, ‘Oh, it'll be OK, it'll be all right.' Then there's this,” she said. “We're moving.”
Red Cross shelters open
About 100 Mecklenburg County homes suffered flood damage, with water levels inside from two inches to five feet, emergency management director Wayne Broome said.
Flood maps were last revised in 2000, Troutman said, and are being updated. But he said no waters appeared to rise higher than the 100-year flood line on existing maps.
Sixty-seven people were still at the East Mecklenburg shelter by mid-afternoon, the Red Cross reported, and more were expected Wednesday night. The Red Cross also opened shelters in Harrisburg, Concord and Kannapolis.
Callers reported problems Wednesday with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's geo-notify system, which sends automated notifications to communities. A number of people reported getting a call, but hearing nothing on the line operated by the department's crime prevention division.
The department couldn't provide its 911 call volumes Wednesday, but said it operated smoothly. The Observer has reported that the system has struggled to quickly answer calls during major storms, rush hours and public events. The Charlotte City Council this year approved five more dispatcher and three supervisor positions.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg's water system wasn't affected, officials said. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities reported no significant sewage spills.
By Wednesday afternoon, inundated creeks – Briar, Sugar, Little Sugar and McMullen – were subsiding. But the Rocky River in Cabarrus County, like some creeks in southern Mecklenburg, was still rising as water poured downstream.
Evacuations in Cabarrus
In Cabarrus, rescuers made at least 15 swift-water saves as floodwaters damaged homes, and closed schools and roads.
Kannapolis firefighters started evacuating the 51 residents of Kannapolis Village Longterm Care at 5:30 a.m., along with a dozen residents of a nearby trailer park.
Two mobile home parks, on German Drive and Country View Road, were closed. Residents of the Timber Forest subdivision got reverse-911 calls about the evacuation.
South of Charlotte, on Lake Wylie, Camp Thunderbird director Andy Kane said it was the most rain he'd seen fall there in 24 hours. Fifteen miles below the Wylie dam, at Landsford Canal State Park, the Catawba was high on its banks, but not flooding.
“This is the highest I've seen the Catawba in several years,” said park ranger Don Oneppo, “but nothing like the flooding we had back in the spring of '03.”