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Two days of storms leave region cleaning up

May 22nd, 2013 9:44 pm by Brad Hicks and John Thompson- Press Staff Writers

Two days of storms leave region cleaning up

Tuesday night's storm washed away pavement on a section of Lee Avenue in the town of Unicoi. (Ron Campbell/ Johnson City Press)

ERWIN — For several county and municipal road crews, business owners and homeowners, much of the day Wednesday was spent cleaning up after a storm rolled through the area Tuesday evening, bringing with it heavy rainfall. 

Unicoi County Emergency Management Director Ed Herndon said the county was hit hardest from downtown Erwin north to the Unicoi County line. Herndon said the Rock Creek area in Erwin was struck particularly hard with high waters, as culverts in the area overflowed. He said water found its way into several homes.

Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson said much of the town was impacted by the storm, particularly areas near Seventh Street and Mountainview Road, Main Avenue and Union Street and along Elm Avenue. 

“Probably too many streets to list we had to shut off at least temporarily,” Tilson said. 

Tilson said evacuation assistance was offered to some residents, and one person was evacuated from an apartment on Griffith Way.

All roads in town of Unicoi near Unicoi Elementary School were blocked for some time Tuesday evening due to high waters, Herndon said. Waters washed away a portion of Lee Street, located off Massachusetts Avenue, and the road remained closed as of Wednesday evening. 

Unicoi County Superintendent of Roads Terry Haynes said much of his department’s day was spent clearing debris from culverts throughout the county. 

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said an elderly resident along Massachusetts Avenue was evacuated as water entered her home. He said water and debris filled the yards of several residences in the area.

“It was just too much water for the drains,” Hensley said.

Hensley said wet conditions this spring have saturated the ground. He voiced concern that heavy rains in the future could lead to flash flooding in the county.

“Mother Nature’s not working too well with us right now,” Hensley said. 

Herndon said no lightning or wind damage was reported as a result of Tuesday night’s storm, and no injuries were reported in Unicoi County. 

Several businesses in downtown Erwin were impacted by Tuesday’s storm. Lou Snider, owner of the Hawg-N-Dawg restaurant on Union Street, said his business was flooded. Snider said he and restaurant employees worked Tuesday evening to remove water that found its way into the restaurant, and that cleanup continued Wednesday morning. 

“That’s the worst it’s ever been in the three years that I’ve been here,” Snider said. “We had it pretty well-contained with the sandbags, and the rain stopped, but the water just kept coming up.”

Stegall’s Stoneware along Nolichucy Avenue was closed Wednesday after several inches of water and mud inundated the store. Owner Alan Stegall cardboard boxes containing pottery were turned to “mush” due to the water, and his business lost around $10,000 worth of packing materials due to the flood. 

“We’ve had water in store before, but never to this extent and never mud,” Stegall said. 

Stegall said he worked with an employee of the Erwin Public Works Department on Tuesday night to try and clear debris from drains located in front of his shop. However, he said as they worked to clear a drain, one that had been cleared moments earlier would stop up again. He also said his store is located in the “low point in town.”

“Everything from Main Street and up higher, up at the high school, everything comes down here,” he said. “The biggest problem is it’s like a funnel. The narrow end of the funnel ain’t big enough for a storm like that.”

Businesses along Main Avenue in front of the Unicoi County Courthouse have been struck by flooding in the past. Construction for Erwin’s downtown revitalization project, a component of which is increasing the capacity of the town’s downtown stormwater system, is now taking place in front of these businesses. Ben McNabb, owner of Keesecker Appliance and Furniture, said that although his warehouse along Elm Avenue experienced some high water, this construction likely spared his downtown business from flooding. 

“I think the construction actually helped because it let the water go into the ground instead of staying on top of the concrete and on top of the asphalt,” he said. 

The hardest hit area of Carter County was in the Browns Branch and Rittertown section of Hampton. 

Carter County Emergency Management Agency Director Andrew Worley said about 2 inches of rain fell in an hour at the beginning of the storm. 

“If it had kept raining, it really would have been bad,” Worley said. 

Although the rain quickly subsided, it had already dropped enough water to overwhelm the tiles and drainage ditches along Browns Branch. The stopped up tiles caused water to rise as much as 3 feet. Some basements were reported to be flooded.

“We had a crew out getting the tiles unplugged,” Carter County Highway Department Assistant Superintendent Douglas “Slim” Miller said.

Another problem was the water had deposited river rock on Browns Branch, Rittertown, Ingrams Branch and other roads. The Highway Department got out its snow plows to push the rocks off the road. Miller said Sciota Road also had high water. 

“We won’t know about how much damage we had until we get all the rocks off,” Miller said. “We did have some shoulder damage.”

Although the rain did stop, the waters did come near some residences. Worley said a woman and her children asked to be evacuated. She was taken to an emergency shelter set up at Harmony Free Will Baptist Church, Worley said. Relatives responded and the woman and her children spent the night with family.

“I was very impressed by how rapidly our rescue squad responded,” Worley said. “They made a full response. They had all their teams and equipment, including the all-terrain, four-wheel drive vehicles, the Swift Water Rescue Team.”

He said the Hampton-Valley Forge Volunteer Fire Department also brought all of its rescue equipment to the emergency.

“We were ready if things had gotten worse,” Worley said. “Thank goodness it stopped raining when it did.”

Residents in Greene County reportedly made several calls to 911 concerning localized flooding Thursday afternoon. Dispatchers said while there were no injuries, roadways were flooded and some people had to be rescued from their homes and vehicles.

Washington and Johnson counties said they received rain Thursday, but had no reports of flooding in their areas.

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