Rainfall waylays Carter County

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   From Poga to Pinecrest, rainfall pounded Carter County on Tuesday and Wednesday turning creeks into overflowing rivers and forcing evacuations of residents around the county.
   "It's just about county-wide," said Douglas Miller, assistant superintendent of the county's Highway Department. "This one may end up worse than (the flood of 1998) county-wide."
   Highway department crews spent Wednesday clearing culverts of debris washed down by floodwater. Up to 12 highway department trucks were moving debris and clearing culverts throughout the day and night to clear county roads.
   Several inches of rainfall in less than 24 hours pushed an already saturated ground into overflow mode and sent some Carter County residents scrambling to higher ground on Wednesday.
   A portion of the Swimming Pool Road neighborhood in Hampton was closed off for several hours after Laurel Creek broke its banks. The creek water surged over the road and into some homes. Residents said the creek began to spill over the banks around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
   Carter County has three reservoirs/basins where water falls after it hits the ground. According to NWS, rainfall gauged from state and federal agencies reported the county's Burbank reservoir had received 3.45 inches of rainfall between 8 a.m. Tuesday and 8 a.m. Wednesday. The South Holston Dam and Watauga Dam reservoirs received 2.46 inches and 3.14 inches of rainfall, respectively.
   In the county's west end, Buffalo Creek overflowed its banks pooling water in yards around the Happy Valley area. The Elk River in southeast Carter County also surged, sending water over roadways in the Elk Mills and Poga community.
   Carter County Sheriff's Department Deputy John Henson Jr. said "a couple" of families had been evacuated from the Elk Mills area on Wednesday. Elk River water spilled over Clawson Road and Heaton Creek Road, according to highway department crews working in Elk Mill and Poga.
   "We're just riding it out to see what comes out of it," said Henson.
   Sheriff's department officials and other public safety personnel rescued a man and woman from their sedan on Riverbottom Road in Valley Forge Wednesday morning. The couple became stuck after trying to pass through high water that was covering the road.
   "A man had gone through in a four-wheel drive and he told them they could get through," said Tennessee Constable Bob Carroll who assisted in the rescue. "But when they got in, the water just stalled it out on them." Neither victim was injured in the incident.
   Carroll estimated that approximately 50 families had been evacuated from the Riverbottom Road area of Valley Forge on Wednesday. The road lies parallel to the Doe River, which broke its banks along low-lying areas of the county. Most evacuees went to stay with relatives until the floodwater receded, Carroll said. Several roads including Riverbottom were closed to motorists for various periods of time Wednesday due to floodwater.
   The American Red Cross set up disaster relief shelters at three locations in the county on Wednesday in preparation to house evacuees. The agency had shelters available at the Carter County Health Department, Hampton Christian Church in Hampton and Little Milligan Elementary School.
   Jim Brice, a Red Cross volunteer from Kingsport, said the volunteers were called early Wednesday morning to prepare for possible disaster service in Carter County.
   "They didn't tell us what to expect," said Brice, one of several volunteers who manned the shelter set up at Hampton Christian Church. The shelters were supplied with food, water, cots and blankets if needed.
   However, as of Wednesday evening, only one person had taken advantage of the shelter accommodation. Elma Rose of Fifth Street in Elizabethton said a neighbor had driven her to the Health Department shelter after Elizabethton Police officers warned neighborhood residents the Doe River was rising dangerously. 
   "I had just looked at the river about 100 feet away, but it was coming up really fast and really angry," said Rose who said she had no living relatives.
   Flash flood warnings remained in effect for Carter, Washington, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins and Unicoi counties Wednesday night.