Big Little River: Townsend flooding damages roads, but spares homes
By Iva Butler | (email@example.com)
Blount County schools were closed for the second day today as residents coped with widespread flooding from more than 5 inches of rain.
Townsend was hit hardest by flooding Monday night and Tuesday when streams and springs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park sent a torrent of fast-moving water into Little River.
The river levels fluctuated frequently Tuesday, rising and declining throughout the day. Townsend and Blount County Highway Department closed a section of Old Walland Highway near Wilson bridge over Little River at Kinzel Springs
Doug Ownsby, who has owned 150 feet of waterfront on Little River near Peewee Springs for 15 years, said this is the highest he has ever seen the river.
He was clearing out a small building that his family uses as a changing room when they go swimming in the river. “It may be gone by morning,” he said.
Between Sunday night and 10 p.m. Tuesday, 5.39 inches of rain had fallen at McGhee Tyson Airport, according to Lyle Wilson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown. Rain was expected to continue through the night before letting up this morning.
The weather service has flood warnings out for the entire area until 6 a.m. today.
Townsend Volunteer Fire Chief Don Stallions said Tuesday night just before 10 p.m. that the Little River was at its highest point since the rain started. On Monday night the water level peaked at 5,800 cubic feet per second, Stallions said, which was the amount of water running through the river at that point.
By Tuesday night, that level had risen to 6,700 cubic feet per second. In 2004, a fairly major flood occurred when the water level was measured at between 12,000 and 15,000 cubic feet per second, Stallions said.
“Right now we’re preparing in case it gets worse,” Stallions said. “Right now it’s on the precipice of (this) being a larger event.”
Stallions noted that if the water levels continued to rise throughout the night, they may have to begin evacuating houses along Old Highway 73 and Old Walland Highway. He noted that the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, Blount County Rescue Squad, the Blount Specials Operations Response Team and the Blount County Fire Department were all on standby waiting to assist if necessary.
“We’ll be here around the clock,” Stallions said. “We’ll be here as long as we deem necessary.”
Townsend Volunteer Fire Department advised residents Monday night to evacuate Dark Island, which is surrounded by the river and a creek. Two families left and two elected to remain at home, said Chief Stallions.
The two families that evacuated stayed for awhile at an American Red Cross shelter set up at Tuckaleechee United Methodist Church, 7322 Old Tuckaleechee Road, Townsend.
By Tuesday night, the area was completely cut off due to flooding. Stallions said the homes still had power and to his knowledge, all families had returned to their homes.
Road tile damaged
A raging Carr’s Creek washed out a tile culvert, prompting Blount County Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap to close a small section of the road.
Over time, the bottom of the tile had filled up with some sediment and limbs blocked the tile, causing the water to force its way around the tile and buckle the asphalt, Dunlap said.
In a major 1996 flood, another tile washed out and Blount worked with the National Park Service to open the missing link of Foothills Parkway to allow stranded residents of Carr’s Creek access to East Lamar Alexander Parkway at Walland.
That scenario was repeated Tuesday, giving residents and emergency vehicles a way in and out.
Dunlap said his people will have to wait until the water goes down to replace the 5-foot-wide and 30-foot-long tile.
It will take about half a day to replace the tile and repair the cracked blacktop in order to reopen the road, he said.
Dunlap stressed the importance of people not going around barricades at flooded portions of roads. “They’re there for a reason,” he said.
At 11:15 p.m. Monday, a woman went around barricades on Riverford Road and her car stalled in the middle of the overflow, said Blount County Fire Department Captain Tim Ogle.
The department called out their water rescue-trained personnel to get a flotation vest and rope to the woman and carried her out in 13 minutes, Ogle said.
Ten firefighters were on the scene for one hour, waiting for a wrecker to come and haul the stalled car out of the water.
The Blount firemen were also working with Rockford City Manager Terry Willett to put together an evacuation plan should water ever get into city hall, which sits on the banks of Little River, Ogle said. The firemen are monitoring the level of the river at that location.
Other roads closed
A section of Ellejoy Road between Coulter’s bridge and the bridge upstream was closed, as were sections of Riverford, Blockhouse, Helton, Proffitt Springs, Lee Lambert and Grey Ridge roads and Porter Bridge. Dunlap said there were about a dozen blockades set up on Blount County highways by 10 p.m. Tuesday due to flooding from nearby rivers and creeks.
Crews had to set up a blockade on Bernie Station Road after debris washed out the road, Dunlap said.
Only one road within the Maryville city limits, Kittrell Avenue behind Coulter Springs Intermediate School, was reported to be closed. Maryville firefighters said a sinkhole opened in the road Tuesday afternoon, leading to the road’s closure.
An earth slide about 250 to 300 feet long and 40 feet wide occurred on private property in the Kinzel Springs development just off East Lamar Alexander Parkway, said Townsend Police Chief Ronnie Suttles. The slide is below a new log house that was recently built on the mountainside.
Alcoa reported no road closings due to the flooding.
“We’ve been fortunate,” said Alcoa Public Works Director Kenny Wiggins.
Daily Times reporter Wes Wade contributed to this story.