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The day after: Owners clean up in Johnson City after flooding hits businesses

July 18th, 2013 4:00 pm by Rex Barber

The day after: Owners clean up in Johnson City after flooding hits businesses

Cleanup at Babies on Broadway. (Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press)

Frank Casteel recalls the headquarters for his roofing business being flooded 18 or 19 times in the 50 years he’s been at 113 Highland Ave.

That includes Wednesday’s flood.

And the flood the Wednesday before that.

And the other flood the Wednesday before that. 

This July has had a significant weather event each week, which means Casteel Roofing and Sheet Metal has been pretty much wet the entire month.

• Related article: Work to accelerate on Boone Street flood basin

You see, 113 Highland is located just a few feet from Brush Creek near downtown Johnson City, and when several inches of rain gets unleashed in a short amount of time, the banks overflow and storm water gushes into his business.

Property is destroyed each time this happens, Casteel said Thursday morning.

A flood has ravaged his business five times this year alone. That means this year accounts for about a quarter of the floods he has seen in the past half century.

Anyway, Wednesday’s flood left about two feet of water in his business building. It took four sump pumps and guys operating two shop vacs all night to remove all the water.

Casteel estimated he has had hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage from flooding this year.

“It’s costing me a lot of money,” he said. “You’re talking about $100,000. That’s a lot of money.”

It can get expensive, Casteel said, because the water damages shingles, plywood, insulation, tools and machinery.

“I’ve lost a lot of shingles,” he said. “I lost, I guess, 80 squares (square feet) this time and 75 or 80 squares the last few times.”

A couple miles away at Campbell’s Morrell Music, 118 W Market St., the flooding was not so bad.

“I tell you, the major concern that we have is the ability for people to drive through once it’s done,” said owner David Campbell.

He had paused from mopping up what little water did get into the business before explaining further that vehicles traveling down Market push the water into his store.

“It creates a wake... it keeps pushing it right on in. It’s awful,” he said.

The first flood Campbell recalled seeing downtown was in 1998. He said on average a flood happens about once every four years here. If so, that makes this past year unusual.

The city has a plan to help mitigate some of this flooding problem, but it is not yet completed.

“I don’t know if what they’re doing so far has helped any, but it seems to be flooding more to the west of here,” Campbell said. “I guess it would happen no matter what they do. I hope what they’re doing will be a tremendous help, but time will tell.”

Sandbags were piled up outside the Market Street entrance to Campbell’s, which allowed only a trickle of water in the store for about 10 feet.

Joy Powell, owner of Babies on Broadway, said she had a frustrating experience during Wednesday’s flood. She said she has been dealing with floods at 145 South Broadway Ave. for 13 years, so she is used to the problem, which she said is the storm drains needing cleaned.

She has cleaned out two nearby storm drains each time there is a heavy rain.

Wednesday, a police officer saw her cleaning the drain and stopped her from continuing that task, she said. He grabbed her and ordered her away from the drain under threat of incarceration.

She said the officer used foul language.

“I’m very upset, not about the flood... we can handle that,” she said. “I’m upset that I was treated that way.”

She said that because she was stopped from cleaning the drain, more water came into the business than would have.

“He said I’m saving your life,” she said. “If the storm drain collapses, I’m saving your life. Well, the storm drain is wrought iron and concrete and pavement — it’s not going to collapse.”

Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois said in a statement that the officer was acting to protect life in getting Powell from the water. 

“I understand the water was about waist high, moving, and this individual was going under water to clear the drain,” he wrote. “The EMS paramedic was trying to get the female to get out of the water due to the danger of the moving water and the possibility that the grate on the drain could open up and she could be drawn into it by the current.

“Our officer came to assist and, after putting on a life jacket, went with the EMS paramedic to where this individual was. The officer tried to persuade her to cease putting herself at risk by clearing the drain and get to safety and, after several refusals, she eventually came out of the water. She had put herself in a dangerous position at a time when personnel were trying to get other people to safety as well.”

Powell estimated it has flooded 15 times over the last five years at her business.

She and others were cleaning out all the mud that accumulated in the store Wednesday. All the merchandise had been moved outside but the business was not closed.

Powell said each time it floods the store just holds a sale.

“We always do,” she said. “We have a half-off sale.”

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