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Coastal storm leaves NC misery

While flooding was reported all along the Eastern Seaboard, North Carolina saw the most damage

BY JOHN PAPE | BALTIMORE | October 1, 2010

Torrential storms triggered by the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole

moved north Friday inundating New York and New England while North Carolina and the Mid-Atlantic states began to dry out and clean-up from the record rainfall.

Residents in Baltimore, Annapolis and other communities along the Chesapeake Bay who had piled sandbags in front of doorways Thursday in an attempt to hold back the rising waters, continued to pump out flooded buildings Friday and expected to spend the next few days cleaning up.

Parts of Virginia saw localized street flooding as storms dumped six to seven inches of rain across the eastern portion of the state. In Annandale on the western edge of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, numerous cars were inundated as streets quickly became flooded. Wrecker driver Frederick “Jersey” Wilson said his business had been good.

“The water just took people by surprise. It rose so quick, they really got caught unaware,” Wilson said. “I’ve been pulling folks out all day and I’ll probably be pulling folks out all night.”

Wilson said water on one street rose so fast it almost flooded out his wrecker.

“In just the few minutes it took me to hook up to one guy, the water got so deep I just got back in time to get the wrecker moving before it got flooded,” he said.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell ordered the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to activate its emergency operations center to assist local agencies cope with the storms. Rendell also directed the Pennsylvania National Guard to be on stand-by.

Lancaster County was among the hardest-hit, with flooding throughout much of the area. A state of emergency was declared by county officials because of numerous flooded roadways. More than 100 weather-related emergency calls were received by Lancaster Emergency Services by noon Thursday.

But of all the states contending with the storm, North Carolina, where nearly two-feet of rain fell in four days, is facing the biggest disaster response challenge.

Rainfall totals surpassed 22 inches, breaking Wilmington’s all-time precipitation record, according to the National Weather Service. The previous record of 19 inches was held by Hurricane Floyd, which struck the area in 1999.

Local officials spent much of Thursday monitoring Water Street in downtown Wilmington for an expected tidal surge on the Cape Fear River. The tidal surge coupled with the heavy rainfall threatened to push water into the downtown area.

Unlike Hurricane Floyd which dropped much of its rain to the west of Wilmington causing extensive flooding on the Cape Fear River, rain from the current storm system has been draining quick enough to keep floodwaters out of most homes and businesses.

Still, many area roads and highways remained impassible through much of eastern North Carolina, stranding motorists and closing businesses for a second full day. In areas where roads were still open, numerous weather-related accidents were reported to local law enforcement agencies.

In Washington County, the weather system was blamed for an accident that took the lives of three people and left two small children clinging to life.

North Carolina Highway Patrol Sgt. Jorge Brewer said the five people, all from Atlanta, were traveling along U.S. Hwy. 64 shortly after noon on Thursday when their Jeep Cherokee flipped over into a ditch filled with water.

“They were about three miles east of Creswell when their vehicle struck standing water in the roadway, causing it to hydroplane and overturn,” Brewer said. “Three people died at the scene; two others, both small children, were taken to the hospital in extremely serious condition.”

The dead were identified as the driver, 27-year-old Daniel Alvarez, 25-year-old Natalie Owens and one-year-old Ariela Alvarez.

Two other children, Zachariah and Ezekiel Alvarez, three-year-old twins, were not breathing when first responders arrived, but were revived medics and taken to Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville. Both were reported to be in “extremely critical” condition, according to Brewer.

In Jacksonville, located 60 miles north of storm-soaked Wilmington, 12 inches of rainfall was recorded between 3:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. The six-hour rain total amounted to almost a quarter of the area’s typical average annual rainfall.

In the coastal community of Carolina Beach, just south of Wilmington, heavy rains caused an 11-acre retention pond to overflow, sending floodwater into the downtown area. A number of homes, businesses and hotels were swamped.

Carolina Beach Town Manager Tim Owens said the retention pond was only designed to hold 6 7 inches of rain. The nonstop rain was more than the pond could handle, he said.

“Normally we have the utility crews pump the pond completely before an expected storm, but in this case there just wasn’t enough time between storms to pump the water out,” Owens said.

He added that four more pumps had been brought in to help crews manage the water level in the retention pond.

In the community of Kinston, about 80 miles southeast of Raleigh, a mobile home park had to be evacuated. Lenoir County Emergency Management Director Roger Dail said about 70 people had to be moved to a shelter because of high water in the park.

“The water seems to have stopped rising for now, but it will probably be tomorrow at the earliest before we can let people go back in there,” Dail said.

In the state capital of Raleigh, up to 10 inches of rain fell causing Crabtree Creek to threaten a major commercial area. Nearby Crabtree Valley Mall closed its lower parking deck and several car dealerships moved automobiles to high ground when the creek began to rise. Fortunately, the creek crested Thursday afternoon without reaching any of the businesses, and was expected to continue to fall throughout Thursday night and Friday morning.

Despite the almost nonstop rain, meteorologist Greg Forbes said the threat to North Carolina was not over.

“We’re going to see additional heavy rainfall to parts of the state, mostly in the coastal region, as this training effect continues overnight. We may see some increased flooding through the night-time hours,” Forbes said.

Flood advisories remained in effect Thursday for the North Carolina counties of Brunswick, Edgecombe, Franklin, Granville, Halifax, Harnett, Johnston, Lee Nash, New Hanover, Vance, Wake, Warren, Wayne and Wilson.

State transportation officials continued to warn motorists to not drive on flooded roadways, even after waters begin to recede. North Carolina DOT Division Engineer David Thomas said floodwaters may have damaged the pavement or even undermined the road foundation.

“The water may have scoured the roadbed beneath the surface and damaged the road. The safest thing is to avoid areas that have been flooded,” Thomas said.

The American Red Cross opened shelters across much of the eastern portion of the state to take in stranded motorists and those displaced by the flooding. In addition, a host of faith-based relief organizations were preparing to step in with help.

The Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Services, Lutheran Disaster Response and United Methodist Committee on Relief all reported teams on standby. Additionally, a number of individual churches throughout the region were providing food, meals and temporary shelter to those affected by the storm.

The Rev. Isaac Means with the Antioch Baptist Church said his congregation was collecting clothing, food and cleaning items for flood survivors. Means also said the church had a list of members willing to open their homes to those displaced by the storm.

“People are suffering and this congregation is here to help any way we can. We’re Christians and it’s the Christian thing to do help thy neighbor,” Means said.

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