Latest events focus on hurricane, flooding aftermath

Published 10:15 pm Thursday, October 13, 2016

Cancelled affairs, rescheduled dates, weddings cut short — Hurricane Matthew has left a trail of disrupted social events in its wake. But there remain events happening about town, and most concern the aftermath of Saturday’s major storm.

The Tar-Pamlico River has risen slower than forecasters expected. Initially, it was thought the river would crest on Wednesday; Thursday afternoon, Lisa Respess Williams, an emergency services specialist with Beaufort County Emergency Management, said the river will reach its peak early this morning. The waterways’ slower drainage also means water levels will stay high for a longer period of time: forecasters have now estimated the river remaining at crest levels for 24-48 hours, as opposed to the 12-24 hours originally thought, Williams said.

Beaufort County Emergency Management Director John Pack said a gauge on the U.S. Highway 17 Business bridge in downtown Washington measured 162,000 gallons of water per minute flowing beneath the bridge on Thursday afternoon. The rapidity with which the water is moving results in good news for those in the Tranter’s Creek area who were flooded during Hurricane Matthew last Saturday.

“Right now, it’s going by so fast, it’s pulling the water out of Tranter’s Creek right along with it,” Pack said.

Pack said Hurricane Matthew’s aftermath shares many similarities with damage that occurred during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, and he expects the water will eventually pour over the top of the bridge in downtown Washington, as it did then.

“There’s a good chance it’s going to go across the Business 17 bridge,” Pack said. “We have DOT watching the bridge.”

During Floyd’s flooding, debris prevented from traveling downstream by the bridge’s infrastructure partially dammed the river where it transitions from Tar to Pamlico. Pack said DOT is bringing in a crane to remove debris should that occur again.

At Carrow Trailor Park on VOA Road, mobile homes lifted from their foundations by flooding detached water lines, and emergency workers had to go in during flooding to stop the massive leaking, Pack said.

During the height of Matthew, Washington Police and Fire Services were out rescuing people from high water. Most in the Heritage Park neighborhood near Washington-Warren Airport chose to evacuate with the exception of two families, both of which were rescued during the night. Fire Chief Robbie Rose said the area is impacted by a drainage way behind the airport.

“It got so deep, they decided they had to go,” Rose said. “We used the big military truck — one of those high-wheeled vehicles — and just drove right up.”

Rose said fire-rescue-EMS personnel rescued residents from homes in the neighborhood around 12th Street, which is prone to flooding, as well as people out driving during the storm who became stuck in high waters.

“There were stranded vehicles all around the mall — that went on until about 4 o’clock in the morning,” Rose said. “Of course, all that came from people ignoring warnings about driving in water.”

Beaufort County EMS made a run during the height of Matthew, traveling from Washington to Chocowinity to pick up a patient with a life-threatening condition, Pack said. With major winds and with the U.S. 17 Business bridge underwater, paramedics were slowly escorted over the U.S. 17 bypass bridge by a North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper.

“(With winds) at 50 mph, it’s not a safe bridge. There were gusts of 62 mph,” Pack said.

Rose said the fire department’s boat is ready if water rescues need to be made at the peak of flooding Friday and Saturday.

“We can have that boat in the water pretty quick,” Rose said. “But right now, everything I’ve heard is that the Pamlico River is going to stay below flood level.”