Floodwater, snow hits Elizabethton, Carter Co. work crews hard

John Thompson • Jan 18, 2013 at 9:06 AM

ELIZABETHTON — From floods to snowstorms, Carter County and Elizabethton crews, had to make the transition on Thursday.

"It is just like 1998," Carter County Highway Superintendent Jack Perkins said. He was referring to the difficult January 15 years ago which had one of the worst floods in history, followed by a major snowstorm.

Perkins and his crews have been working since Monday to keep the roads open and the stormwater flowing through ditches and culverts. As the rains continued to fall Thursday morning, the department's dump trucks were reconfigured with snow plows on the front and salt and chat dispensers in the beds.

During the transition, Perkins said "we are still fighting it," referring to the flooding.

The county got a break from the rains on Wednesday, even enjoying a few hours of sunshine, but the rains returned in the evening and it continued to rain until the precipitation changed to snow on Thursday afternoon.

Thursday's early rains caused the water levels to begin rising again. The level of the Doe River had been declining for over 24 hours, but the river began rising again on Thursday afternoon. It was still 3 feet below flood level, Carter County Emergency Management Agency Director Andrew Worley said Thursday afternoon.

For most people, the flooding problems began to seem less of a threat once the heavy snow began to pile up.

The changeover came during the afternoon rush hour and the wet roads quickly became snow covered. It was so fast that even the main roads in the city and county were clogged with snow before the first snow plows could hit the scene. Drivers simply followed the tracks left in the snow by the car in front of them.

While city and county road crews will be working through the night to clear the roads, it will be just one more night in a string of all nighters for the Elizabethton Wastewater Treatment Plant.

"We have been working around the clock since Monday, this is our fourth night to stay all night," Elizabethton Utilities Director Johann Coetzee said. "We do not rely on automatic systems when the flows are this high. We have extra people on duty at the Wastewater Treatment Plant."

'"Our people are very tired right now," Coetzee said. One advantage he has had is that the recent unification of the city's water division and wastewater division allowed extra manpower for the all night vigils.

Despite the increased monitoring, the system did experience some overflows.

The wastewater treatment plant began discharging from its equalization (EQ) basin at 2 a.m. Monday because of the volume of stormwater being received.

Ed Mullins, water resource facilities manager, reported to the state that the basin was discharging approximately 0.6 million gallons per day. They were trying to slow the flow by putting some of the EQ basin water into an empty ditch.

There were also overflows at the Cherokee Pump Station and four manhole covers.. Crews were standing by at the manhole at the intersection of Broad Street and Sycamore Street because the manholes were in the middle of the street.

Coetzee said it was the first time the EQ basin had overflowed since 2001.

"It is just an high flow situation," Coetzee said. The rain gauge at the wastewater treatment plant showed 6.72 inches of rain had fallen since Monday.

"I cannot remember a time in my 17 years with the city where we have had so much rain. I can remember having crews stay overnight for two nights, but this is the first for four nights."

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