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Local officials predicting flash flooding

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Judy Parrish, left, and Lou Parrish load a sandbag into their truck in preperation for Hurricane Florence at a free sandbag filling location offered by the city on Sept. 12, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hurricane Florence is going to drop extreme levels of rain somewhere in eastern North Carolina, likely producing a flood event that could surpass what followed Hurricane Floyd in 1999, meteorologists with the National Weather Service said on Wednesday.

Where it will occur and when remain the great unknown, because the storm’s path and speed were “wobbly” on Wednesday afternoon.

“We are mentioning those type of scenarios based on the amounts of rainfall we are predicting,” said Erik Heden, warning coordinator meteorologist with the National Weather Service Newport/Morehead City. “It might not be in the same areas of Floyd, but it would have the same impact.”

Meteorologists are forecasting between 20-30 inches of rain for the area where Florence makes landfall. The hurricane slowed on Wednesday and started shifting south where it is expected to make landfall late on Friday. Tropical storm winds are expected early this morning. Pitt County will likely experience sustained winds in the high 40s and gusts up to 58 mph.

Widespread, significant flash flooding will occur that could prompt evacuations and rescues and major river flooding is possible for days to weeks, according to information released at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

Meteorologists said areas vulnerable to Hurricane Floyd-like river effects include the Trent River in Jones County, New River in Onslow County, Swift Creek in Craven County and the northeast Cape Fear River in Duplin County.

The Pitt County area is expected to receive 10-15 inches of rain, unless then storm shifts north.

“It’s a fluid situation and we’re going to see significant impacts to our area,” Heden said. “Who sees those impacts, how bad they are, comes down to the final track.”

Flash flooding is the immediate concern of local officials. A storm surge of 9-10 feet is forecast, and combined with heavy rainfall amounts, waterways large and small will flood.

In Greenville, all streets along Green Mills Run are among the first to flood, along with the areas of 14th Street at Charles Boulevard and Evans and Deck streets. Where street flooding occurs is dependent on the characteristics of the storm, said Kevin Mulligan, Greenville Public Works director.

“During Hurricane Matthew the uptown area did not flood but we’ve had storms in the last year where it has flooded,” Mulligan said. “It all depends on what the intensity it and what the coverage of that watershed is.”

East 10th Street and Oxford Road is a problematic area, he said.

“If you see water on the road be safe. Don’t drive through it, you can’t see if there is a road under it,” Mulligan said. “ The area at 10th and Oxford (Road), during Matthew we had someone move the barricades and almost get washed away. During Floyd we did have someone get washed away at that same location. Be safe, be smart and do not drive through a flooded road because you don’t know what’s underneath it.”

Pitt County Planning and Development Director James Rhodes echoed that sentiment.

“People do not need to be out unless absolutely necessary during the height of the storm,” Rhodes said. “We are not 100 percent positive which roads will be inundated with water and it would be a good service to our emergency providers to stay off the road.”

In unincorporated areas of the county Old River Road, Stokes Road, Sunnyside Road and northern roads that run parallel to the Tar River are among the first flood in hurricanes, Rhodes said. Roads that cross a stream will see flash flooding, he said.

Other areas that typically flood are U.S. 264 Bypass at the Pitt-Beaufort county line, said Jeff Cabaniss, Division 2 project development engineer. The southbound lane of Memorial Drive near the Pitt-Greenville Airport partially flooded during Hurricane Matthew, he said.

Cabaniss said he’s seen portions of U.S. 264 Bypass near Wilson flood during some storms.

Based on Wednesday afternoon forecasts Rhodes and Mulligan said they do not anticipate Floyd-level flooding in Pitt County because of lower predicted amounts of rainfall upriver.

Also keeping a close eye on the river surge is the Greenville Utilities Commission.

The storm surge could push brackish water from the Pamlico Sound into the Tar River. GUC’s water treatment plant is not designed to treat salty water so the intake value would have to be closed and stored water would have to be used, said Steve Hawley, GUC communications manager.

Hawley said customers should expect electric outages because the duration of rain and wind will result in trees and utility lines toppling over. Depending on the number of electric lines that are brought down, portions of GUC’s coverage area could be without electricity for several days or longer.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.