Leaders discuss flooding

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   Local leaders in emergency response organizations met Tuesday afternoon to discuss the impact of flooding that occurred on Nov. 19 which devastated some areas of the county and claimed the life of one local man. They also discussed ways to improve the county's response to emergency situations.
   "We're checking our response to see if there is anything that we could do better," said Elizabethton-Carter County Emergency Management Agency Director Ernest Jackson.
   This November was not the first time Carter County has been struck by major flooding. In January, 1998, a flood that followed a blizzard claimed the lives of seven county residents and caused more than $20 million in damage.
   Dealing with the 1998 flooding situation helped emergency workers during the most recent flood. "We've been through this before and I think this one showed us we had gained a little experience from the first one," said Carter County Sheriff's Department Capt. Wayne Markland. "I think we've come a long way."
   The flood in November began during the early morning hours and led to evacuations and road closings in some areas of the county. Emergency workers put in long hours, and some came in on their day off to respond.
   Members of the Sheriff's Department, Elizabethton Police Department, volunteer fire departments, Carter County Rescue Squad, road department crews and 911 dispatchers worked non-stop to rescue individuals from cars or homes, to save the lives of two rafters on the Watauga River, to make sure school children got home safely, and any number of other tasks to protect the lives and property of county and city residents.
   On Nov. 19, more than 1,000 calls came in to the 911 Communications Center from residents, according to Glenna Morton of Carter County 911. "During that 24-hour period dispatch took in 1,114 calls," she said. "On an average day they take in two or three hundred and on a heavy day they take 600."
   One area of needed improvement, however, is the establishment of shelters and knowledge of their location by emergency workers in the event they need to transport residents there or help someone trying to locate a family member.
   According to Bridget Hurt, coordinator of the Carter County service office of the American Red Cross, one issue slowing the development of shelters for those evacuated is a lack of volunteers in Carter County. "We had to wait for someone to come from Kingsport (the location of the Red Cross' regional office)," she said.
   Another area in need of improvement, according to those who attended the meeting, is the way in which county officials make sure streams and rivers are clear of debris to prevent backups in the event of heavy rainfall.
   According to County Mayor Dale Fair, many residents turn to Jack Perkins, superintendent of the Carter County Highway Department, to guarantee streams, rivers, bridges and ditches remain clear of debris. "Why should Jack have to go up with road department money to fix a stream that has over time dammed up when it is not a Road Department problem," Fair said. "We don't have anyone to clean out streams and that is going to come back and bite us."
   Two ideas generated to help solve the problem of clogged streams were to work with the Sheriff's Department to have work crews from the Carter County Jail assist in clearing out debris, and asking the County Commission to reinstate a former fund allocating money for the Road Department to help in the cost of clearing out streams since that department had the necessary equipment for the work.
   Estimates for the damage caused by the flood and the cost of the man hours contributed by emergency workers have not yet been totaled.