Deluge triggers flooding in N.C.; Catawba River on watch

slyttle@charlotteobserver.com lruebens@charlotteobserver.comJuly 28, 2013 

CATAWBA FLOODING

Catawba County deputies survey the damage on Grace Church Road near Newton, N.C. following flooding Saturday, July 27, 2013.

TODD SUMLIN — tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

The latest in a series of summer floods left parts of Catawba and surrounding counties underwater Saturday, in what Catawba County officials said was some of the worst flash flooding in decades.

People who live along and east of Interstate 77 can expect more rain Sunday morning, said Doug Outlaw, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

But he said a brief respite is on the horizon: “Sunday night, there will be no rain anywhere, and right on through Monday, absolutely no rain anywhere. Tuesday, it starts to come back, so we have one day of dry weather.”

Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright declared a state of emergency, telling residents to stay indoors and away from flooded roads and washed-out bridges.

“This is a time for all of us to be very careful and patient,” Wright said. “The cleanup is going to take a while.”

Heavy rain pushed into the Charlotte area early Saturday afternoon, when a nearly stationary weather system dumped more than 12 inches of rain in some parts of Catawba, western Lincoln and northern Cleveland counties.

Some 50 to 60 roads were closed in Catawba County, and at least six were expected to remain closed for at least three months, the Hickory Daily Record reported.

The heavy rain sent large volumes of water into streams and creeks that feed into the Catawba River. High Shoals Lake in Catawba County was a foot above full level Saturday evening, and the water level rose nearly 5 feet between 4 a.m. and 2 p.m.

A flood warning for the Catawba River between Rhodiss and Lookout Shoals lakes will probably remain in effect through early into the week, Outlaw said.

Duke Energy said officials are working to move water down the Catawba River to make space for more rain, but they do not expect flooding in Mountain Island Lake, in northwest Mecklenburg and eastern Gaston counties, or Lake Wateree, in Kershaw, Fairfield and Lancaster counties in South Carolina.

Duke Energy reported 1,265 power outages at 6 p.m. Saturday in Catawba County.

Flooding around the region

Saturday’s flash flood watch was at least the fourth major flash flooding event in the Charlotte region in the past month. Highway officials have been working to repair more than a dozen Charlotte-area roads damaged by high water in floods June 28 and 30.

On Saturday, rain began falling in the Hickory area about 4 a.m., and more than 5.2 inches fell at the regional airport by noon. National Weather Service Doppler radar estimated totals of 10 to 12 inches southwest of Hickory, where dozens of streets were under water Saturday afternoon in Newton, Conover and nearby areas.

The entire infield and racing surface was under several feet of water at Hickory Motor Speedway.

Numerous businesses were closed in the area, and Dana Kaminske, a Hickory spokeswoman, reported significant damage to roads and bridges in the city. She said some residents were displaced from their homes by flooding but could not provide a precise count.

Residents were able to go to an emergency shelter set up by the American Red Cross at the Newton Recreation Center at 23 S. Brady Ave., Kaminske said.

Similarly, in western Lincoln County, emergency management officials told residents to stay off the roads until water recedes. The worst flooding was reported in and near Vale, where authorities said several roads were washed out.

In Cleveland County, serious flooding was noted near Lawndale, in the northern part of the county.

Emergency management officials said Buffalo Creek raged out of its banks along Stroupe Road, east of Lawndale. Several other roads were flooded in the same area.

There also were scattered reports of flooding in Iredell, Alexander and Cabarrus counties.

Iredell’s worst flooding was in the southwest part of the county. Several roads between Old Mountain and Sharon School roads were closed for a time by high water.

Interstate 85 was closed for a short time around 1:30 p.m. Saturday between mile markers 55 and 58 in Cabarrus County, due to high water, the N.C. Highway Patrol said. Traffic was slowed to a crawl north of Charlotte on both I-85 and I-77, as motorists tried to negotiate water that was several inches deep in spots.

Automated gauges showed that nearly 2.5 inches of rain fell Saturday morning and afternoon in the Reedy Creek area of northeast Charlotte. Much of the city got between 1 and 2 inches of rain. Up to 4 inches fell in parts of Cabarrus County.

Terry Grayson, a Cleveland County resident, tweeted a photo shortly before noon Saturday of raging water near St. Paul Road in the northern part of the county. Grayson said the creek normally is a few inches deep.

Police in Newton said authorities conducted several water rescues late Saturday morning. Emergency management officials said several rescues were under way on Keisler Road, east of Newton.

Similar rescues were reported in Conover, Hickory and near Vale.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle

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