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Area counties contend with high water

John Thompson and Brad Hicks • Jan 16, 2013 at 8:57 AM

Persistent rains in Carter and Johnson counties have led to the closures of roads and schools and threats to some low lying homes on Tuesday and Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said officials there are keeping an eye on the county’s creeks and the Nolichucky River.

The heavy rains also led the American Red Cross to open an emergency flood shelter at Grace Baptist Church, 1114 Broad St., Elizabethton.

“There’s a few places where people are having trouble accessing their home,” Glenda Bobalik of the Red Cross said of the decision to open the shelter. “It’s so people will have a warm, dry place to stay.”

The shelter’s opening came after five residences in the Hampton area of Carter County near Carl Smith and Swimming Pool roads were evacuated around 4:30 p.m. due to flooding, according to Carter County 911 supervisor Johnny Miller.

Miller said flooding was widespread throughout the county, particularly in the Stoney Creek area.

Sheriff Chris Mathes said a huge tree fell in the Coney Island in Stoney Creek, knocking out power to some homes. The sheriff said water was moving pretty well around the fallen tree.

He said the Stoney Creek and the Hampton area around Swimming Pool were areas of primary concern, along with the Buffalo Creek, where water was going over the bridge on Gov. Alf Taylor Highway.

Johnson County was experiencing trouble with high water along many of its roads.

“It is just more water than the channels can carry, Johnson County Highway Superintendent Tony Jennings said. “The culverts aren’t blocked, the water is just flowing over them.”

“It is all over the county,” Jennings said. Some of the hardest hit have been Doe Valley, Forge Creek, Shady Valley and Trade.

Jennings was checking the roads in Doe Valley and said several are under water.

“I hope it doesn’t damage them, but the currents are probably going to cut a bunch in two.”

Carter County Highway Superintendent Jack Perkins said his crews have been all over the county. He said in addition to Stoney Creek, the area along Buffalo Creek also had many problems.

Perkins closed Creek Bank Road in Stoney Creek around 2 p.m. He said three trucks hauling stone were on their way to the area.

Carter County Highway Department employee Robert Whitener said he has been on calls all day, especially on the western end of the county. “I have been so many places I can’t tell you all of them.”

Perkins said some of the flooding at culverts was because of heavy flow and other flooding at culverts was caused by debris filling up the culverts. Plugged culverts led to temporary closures of the Gov. Alf Taylor Road and to Wilbur Dam Road on Tuesday morning.

Street crews in Elizabethton also were busy, especially with blocked drains and culverts, interim City Manager Jerome Kitchens said. One blockage was on West Elk Avenue near Grindstaff Motors.

The heavy rains have also placed a big burden on the city sewer system,

Kitchens said the city’s utility director, Johann Coetzee had his crews on duty all night to manage the heavy flow of stormwater. Standby crews were also designated for Tuesday night, including the city’s construction crews.

“We still have some capacity in our tanks,” Kitchens said. “Nothing has gone directly into the river.”

Carter County Emergency Management Agency Director Andrew Worley said that while many of the creeks in the county were near the top of their banks, the Doe River is only at 4.5 feet. He said flood stage is 8 feet.

He said a plugged culvert on a private drive led to the flooding of the basement of one home on Stoney Creek on Tuesday. He said the basement had about 5 feet of water. The Stoney Creek Volunteer Fire Department was pumping the water out.

Hensley said Tuesday evening that Jones Branch Road, located along the Nolichucky River, was blocked due to river waters coming onto the road. He also said that a tile had stopped up in the area Neslon Hollow Road, causing water to work its way onto the pavement. Hensley said crews from the Unicoi County Highway Department were able to repair the tile, and the road was again open by Tuesday evening.

Hensley also said the county’s creeks were “within their banks” and the Nolichucky had not yet crested, although he said waterways were full and were beginning to experience small flooding. The sheriff said if heavy rain continues to fall, officials could be looking at “serious problems.”

“Right now, we’re in pretty good shape,” Hensley said Tuesday afternoon. “They’re within their banks.”

Flooding led to the closing of schools in Johnson, Carter and Unicoi counties and Elizabethton schools on Tuesday.

Elizabethton Schools Superintendent Ed Alexander made his decision at 11 a.m. to close school after learning of an expected band of heavier rains that were coming through at 1:30 p.m. He said all the students were dismissed after they had their lunch. As a safety precaution, aides rode with all the elementary school buses to make sure there was someone at home for the younger children.

Unicoi County High School, Intermediate School and Middle School dismissed classes at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday due to the threat of flooding. The county’s elementary schools dismissed at 11:45 a.m. School has been called off for today.

Hensley said because school was called off Wednesday, school resource officers were called in Tuesday evening to provide patrol duty throughout the county. Hensley said residents living along South Indian Creek and North Indian Creek should “be on alert,” as the creeks are filled.

He also urged county residents to stay off the roads unless travel is necessary and not to travel through water where the depth is unknown if travel is required.

“The main message I want to put out to people is if they don’t have to travel, don’t,” Hensley said.

The good news for the counties was that the rains should end today.

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