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Emergency Officials Warn Residents On Catawba River About Rising Water

Davie Hinshaw
Charlotte Observer

  Residents along the Catawba River should remain vigilant through tonight for rising waters caused by this week’s heavy rains, Duke Energy and emergency management officials warned.

A road in Charlotte was blocked Tuesday and firefighters were going door-to-door warning people about flooding along the Catawba River.

Water flowed downstream after mountain counties received heavy rainfall Monday. Some areas of the mountains got as much as seven inches of rain. Charlotte received 1.6 inches of rain, breaking a precipitation record.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police reported that the 1400 block of Riverside Drive is closed. The street is just a few feet from the Catawba River. Homes along the river typically flood after large amounts of rain fall in the mountains.

"Our plea to the people who live in this area is to leave before it gets worse,” a Charlotte Fire Department official said.

Duke Energy, meanwhile, raised Mountain Island Lake’s level to 104 feet on Tuesday, which is 4 feet over full pond. That will cause water levels along the Catawba River on Mountain Island Lake and the Catawba River on Lake Wylie, south of the Mountain Island Dam, to continue to rise as well, Gaston County Police Capt. W.S. Melton said.

The National Weather Service in Greenville-Spartanburg has issued a flood warning for a dam release to include eastern Gaston County until 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, he said.

“The weather forecast for this region indicates scattered thunderstorms are possible, mainly this afternoon and evening,” Melton said. “Heavy rain from persistent storms could also result in runoff that could result in other bodies of water to include streams and streams and creeks still swollen from recent rainfall to increase.”

One area that Gaston County emergency officials were watching “fairly closely” was Nivens Cove Road on Mountain Island Lake near Mount Holly. Rising water could cover the road, threatening six to eight residences. said Tommy Almond, Gaston County Emergency Management administrator.

Cathy Roche, who chairs the Mountain Island Lake Marine Commission, said Tuesday that docks and boats have floated and that debris is caught under the N.C. 16 bridge. Another commissioner is out surveying the damage, she said.

Duke Energy and Gaston County Emergency Management officials encouraged residents along the Catawba River to use caution in low-lying and flood-prone areas. “Boaters, including those with canoes and kayaks, are asked to refrain from putting their boats on the water at this time due to the rapid currents generated by this large amount of water,” Melton advised.

“Some areas in the upper Catawba region have received 11 inches of rain or more in the last three days, requiring Duke Energy’s hydro operations team to move significant water volumes through the Catawba River’s 225 miles and chain of 11 reservoirs and 13 hydroelectric stations,” Randy Herrin, general manager of Duke Energy’s hydro fleet, said at 12:35 p.m. Tuesday. “We received about three months of rain in three days in the upper Catawba River Basin.”

As the upper Catawba begins to stabilize, Herrin said, “our focus is on public safety and balancing the upper basin with the lower to minimize impacts to lakeside residents as much as possible.

Some streams and tributaries are flowing at 50 to 100 times their normal volumes of water, Herrin said. “Duke Energy is managing the river by passing water through engineered spillways or floodgates at all the lakes it manages along the Catawba, except Lake Wateree, although the company expects Lake Wateree to spill sometime early Wednesday.

Duke Energy also is operating all available hydro units, Herrin said. Upstream, Lake James, Lake Rhodhiss, Lake Hickory and Lookout Shoals Lake are stabilizing and the lake levels are beginning to lower, he said.

The city of Newton on Tuesday reported several sewer overflows due to Monday’s heavy rains: 36,270 gallons at 1432 N.C. 10 West into Hildebran Creek; 12,090 gallons at 922 W. First St. into Hildebran Creek and 7,650 gallons at 1857 Burris Road into McLin Creek.

The Lake Norman Marine Commission, meanwhile, warned boaters Tuesday that especially during high water, boat wakes can significantly damage docks, piers, seawalls and moored water craft, and that boaters who cause the wakes are liable for any damage.

On Monday, Catawba County declared a state of emergency in response to serious flooding. The flooding damaged more than 35 homes in the northern and eastern parts of the county, according to a press release announcing the state of emergency.

“Extensive rain at the headwaters of the Catawba River caused the river and lakes to rise rapidly in the morning on May 6, 2013,” according to a news release announcing the state of emergency. “It is anticipated that water will recede slowly over the next several days.”

Ridge Street in Claremont was hardest hit, with water standing five to six feet in some homes, Emergency Management Coordinator Karyn Yaussy said.

Emergency management recommended people evacuate at 2 p.m. Monday, she said. No shelter was opened because residents made their own arrangements with relatives or friends, Yaussy said.

A damage assessment team was starting to work on Tuesday.

The Carpenter's Cove neighborhood in Claremont is a tightly-knit lake community where some properties have been in the same family for two or three generations, Yaussy said.

All homes are single family, raging from weekend cabins to larger residences.

Near Claremont, Lance Carroll was assessing damage to his four-bedroom house on Lookout Shoals Lake on Tuesday.

The water had stood six to eight inches inside before receding.

"The yard is still under water," said Carroll, 35, a self-employed computer technician.

In his 30 years there, Carroll could recall only one other time water had gotten inside. That time, the level was two or three inches. "This is the quickest I've ever seen it come up," he said. "And it's the highest I've ever seen it."

Around 7 a.m. Monday, when Carroll and his wife took their 12-year-old daughter to school, the lake water was rising but hadn't gotten into the yard. By noon, the water was creeping up to the front steps.

Carroll started packing clothes and other items into his Honda Civic. When he drove off about 2:15 p.m. water was over the car hood. "A couple of times it slowed me down," Carroll said. "But by the grace of God I made it through."

The water didn't make it into the car floor board.

For now, Carroll and his family are staying in a Hickory motel. He plans to repair the damage and return to the lake. But the experience has stirred some second thoughts.

"When the water stays where it's supposed to be, it's nice out here," Carroll said. "It's times like these that make you start thinking you need to find a dry place."

Gaston County emergency management officials said high water near Riverside Drive in McAdenville had gotten into some yards but that no homes were threatened.

In the neighboring Cramerton, the South Fork River flooding Riverside Park and portions of Goat Island Park, Town Manager Michael Peoples said.

Duke Energy disconnected power to the park Monday afternoon.

The popular park on the 30-acre island in the South Fork River opened last June. Peoples said town crews will work to have picnic shelters in the park ready for people who'd rented them for the weekend.

At Floyd & Blackie's Coffeehouse & Ice Cream on Eighth Street in Cramerton, co-owner Greg Ramsey said the normally lazy South Fork River about 50 yards from his business looked "like whitewater."

Logs zipped by in water moving 10 to 15 mph hour, he said.

Ramsey, who also runs a canoe/kayak business named the Floating Goat, had to move canoes from racks behind his shop Monday afternoon because of high water.

A steady steam of people stopped there to see the raging river.

"Traffic was constant," Ramsey said. "Business was good because of it."

The flooding "caused a lot of wildlife displacement," he said. "I saw a lot of snakes on the move, and beaver and deer."

Ramsey said volunteers will work on May 17 to clean up debris on and around Goat Island.

View more photos and video of the flooding here at the Charlotte Observer

Staff Writers Joe DePriest and Bruce Henderson, Staff Photographer Davie Hinshaw and WCNC-TV contributed.