Johnson City Schools will not hold classes today due to heavy rains Sunday which flooded the city and caused what could be a complete loss of three to five buses.
The new school year will begin only when there is a full fleet, Superintendent Richard Bales said late Monday — the day on which the first day of classes were to be held.
At least three school transit vans, which carry from 12-24 passengers, and as many as five, have been identified as total losses. Seventeen school transit vans were damaged, but the full extent of the damage has not yet been determined.
The buses were parked at the north end of the city garage.
Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl said the city’s Motor Transport staff has been working on both school buses and Johnson City Transit vehicles to check them for safety. Transit drivers are then taking the vehicles for test runs, and a state inspector also is looking at the vehicles.
Four school transit vehicles from last year that were out of service are being repaired to use in place of those that were lost. Meanwhile, Johnson City’s mass transit and para transit have been cleared and the service will be operating today without interruption, Stahl said.
“Every department is working diligently to assess and repair damage to ensure that all services continue to run as normal or return to normal as quickly as possible,” he said.
Public Works Department crews were busy Monday handling the havoc left behind by what is believed to be about 5 inches of rain within a few hours Sunday night. That work includes a range of tasks, from removing debris from streets to barricading crumbled streets, clearing culverts and roads and repairing various parts and pieces that make up the city’s infrastructure
Crews with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department also have been working to clean up parks, particularly Kiwanis, where severe flooding occurred.
An appraiser is expected to assess the damage sometime this week.
“Our system just can’t handle a steady flow like that in such a short time,” said Phil Pindzola, Public Works Department director.
City department and division heads assessed damage to their respective properties Monday and met with Johnson City School officials later in the afternoon. Initial responses suggested it could take a couple days before a complete report is available.
Stahl said fencing at the City Services Complex and adjacent bus lot was damaged, and an embankment at the Liberty Bell Athletic Complex suffered some erosion.
All one needed do to observe the flood’s aftermath in downtown Johnson City was to drive the streets and watch as business owners mopped up, repositioned sand bags, dragged out soaking merchandise, fired up power washers and grabbed brooms and rags.
Perhaps the most visually striking evidence of the flood was just inside the city limits off Austin Springs Road on Creekside Drive which leads into an area here several body and machine shops are located. The force of the rushing water shoved cars 30-40 feet from their original positions, cramming debris into grills and soaking the vehicles up past the top of their windows.
The damage hardest to believe was the nearly 4 acres of asphalt that was lifted, cracked, smashed and redistributed in awkward positions throughout the area.
The worst damage was near Wilson Paint and Body, where one car had been pushed across the lot, ending up sitting precariously on only three wheels and about to fall into the creek.
“I was at my house (Sunday night) about a half-mile away,” he said. “My home got flooded too. The pavement was new. It was just put on. The water level was over the top of some cars, and they were turned in every direction.”
Ricky Hill, who owns the nearby Quality Body Shop, said he lucked out and that his business suffered only minor damage.
“When I came in here at about 6:30 this morning (Monday), I just could not believe it,” Hill said. “There’s probably $250,000-$300,000 worth of damage here. I’ve been here 29 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. We were fortunate.”
One of the more precarious situations was on Quarry Road off South Roan Street where the raging water had raked away a good portion of the road. City crews were at work Monday tending to two large trees along the creek next to Sinking Creek that had given way at the roots under relentless rain and loosened soil.
A cable and phone line lay strewn across the street, and a live natural gas line wrapped in a bright yellow exterior lay bobbing in the still rushing creek. A telephone pole also succumbed to the force of the water, but it was replaced by midday.
Bales said Johnson City Schools’ parents will be updated on the situation via texts. People also can go to the school system’s website for updates at www.jcschools.org.
Classes at University School at East Tennessee State University are also canceled today.