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Floods cause damage, force road closures

The Nolichucky River rises during recent heavy rains. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Downpours last week wreaked havoc across the region.

Flash flooding caused temporary closures to many roads across Unicoi County and had some residents seeking shelter from the storm. According to Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley, first responders worked quickly to keep the county safe.

“I know several roads including Highway 81 going towards Jonesborough had to be closed,” Hensley said. “Water was coming down off the mountain flooding the road.

Hensley acknowledged that several areas had to be evacuated during the flooding.

“We had to evacuate Bill Pate’s Trailer Park on the Old Asheville Highway. We had to help people coming and going on Guy Erwin Road,” Hensley said. “There was extreme flooding in the Temple Hill area all the way down to Sandy Bottom.”

According to Hensley, those who were displaced had a shelter to go to.

“Red Cross set up a shelter at the Church of Christ at Rock Creek Road,” Hensley said. “For those in the south part of the county, Temple Hill Community Center was opened for shelter seekers.”

Erwin also faced a few areas of flooding.

“We had a few issues – North Main Avenue at Tractor Supply ended up being closed for several hours and a portion of Carolina Avenue was down to one lane near Spar Mill Road for a little while,” Town of Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson said. “The public works crews worked very hard to get those areas clear and the small bridge on Main Avenue has been an issue for years.”

According to Tilson, the flooding could have been worse.

“We had extra officers on duty to assist in areas where they were most needed, but the stormwater mitigation work done over the last few years had really paid off,” Tilson said. “We have some more work to do in other areas, but it was better than it has been. There was some private property damage.”

The north end of the county also saw flash floods due to the excessive rain.

“We had to block some roads off due to the heavy rain and the flooding,” Town of Unicoi Police Chief Andy Slagle said. “We had some areas on Marbleton Road flood. We had an area wash away near the golf course.”

For Slagle, safety was his staff’s number one priority during the floods.

“We had a shelter in place at the visitor’s center, and our officers worked really hard to make sure everyone was safe,” Slagle said. “Our street department and the work of UCSD and Erwin Police Department helped us keep the region safe from the floods.”

According to Slagle, property owners must be prepared for heavy rain and flooding.

“Our property owners know their land better than most. If it feels uncomfortable, it’s time to seek shelter,” Slagle said. “If you can’t see the lines in the roads, don’t attempt to pass.”

Tilson had similar advice for the citizens of Unicoi County.

“You don’t want to drive into flooded roads – turn around, don’t drown,” Tilson said. “Don’t drive past road closed signs. There is a reason they are there and use caution during these storms as the swift-moving water is extremely dangerous.”

According to Hensley, act early if your residence is susceptible to flooding.

“If you are experiencing a flooding situation and there is a flood warning, it’s best to get out before nighttime if possible,” Hensley said. “Get out before it gets any worse.”

Hensley acknowledged that it takes a team effort to help citizens during disasters.

“We work closely with The Town of Unicoi Police Department, the Town of Erwin Police Department, Unaka Search and Rescue and all area fire departments to move quickly,” Hensley. “We use a code that signals all available units to report.”