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The roaring Watauga River plunges over the Guy Ford Road bridge as the area sees a break in the rainfall Monday morning. Photo by Anna Oakes

Originally published: 2013-05-07 20:39:08
Last modified: 2013-05-07 22:13:31

Floods hit Watauga

Watauga County is getting familiar with flooding.

Rain that began falling Sunday turned into a deluge overnight, causing flooding and power outages throughout the High Country and closing schools on Monday.

According to data from the National Weather Service, 4.92 inches of rain fell at the Watauga Medical Center in Boone between Saturday and 7:55 p.m. on Monday.

Rain resumed again late Tuesday morning, coupled with lightning, thunder and hail so thick in places it looked like snowfall.

The storm brought to mind the flooding of Jan. 30, which brought similar rainfall totals in some areas, but more aggressively targeted the town of Boone.

Watauga County Emergency Management Coordinator Steve Sudderth said the characteristics of this storm would not likely bring disaster declarations or loan opportunities like the January storm.

"The rain was not as concentrated; it didn't hit all at one time," Sudderth said. "We wouldn't have hit any of the benchmarks that would have qualified for any of that."

Still, the storm caused plenty of upheaval to residents' daily routines.

In Boone, Deerfield Road closed near the Moose Lodge as the river crept out of its banks. Capt. Mike Teague said the Boone Fire Department helped two people from the floodwaters early Monday morning after their vehicle became stuck at Deerfield Road near the golf course.

The N.C. Department of Transportation responded to about 12 to 15 mud and rock slides and debris calls overnight and Monday morning, said Maintenance Engineer Kevin Whittington. He said most were minor and were quickly removed.

One rock slide blocked a lane of U.S. 321 just south of Blowing Rock below the Green Park Inn. The Blowing Rock Police Department directed traffic at the area beginning around 6 a.m., and by 9 a.m., the debris was cleared from the highway and both lanes were reopened.

Whittington said 12 roads were closed Monday morning as a result of the flooding: Roby Greene Road, Dell Coffey Road, Brookshire Road, Charlie Hollar Road-New River Hills, Bamboo Road, Watauga River Road, Dewitt Barnett Road, Guy Ford Road, Laurel Creek Road, Deerfield Road, Aldridge Road and Niley Cook Road.

The persistent rain also loosened tree roots and caused a number of trees to fall on power lines, according to Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation.

The largest outage affected more than 5,000 members from 7:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday after a tree fell on a power line in Watauga County, said Renee Whitener, public relations director.

By 6:45 a.m. Monday morning, 487 members in Watauga County and 63 customers in Ashe County were without power, Blue Ridge Electric said.

Watauga County Schools also closed Monday as a result of the flooding, a tough decision for a system that has missed 19 days due to weather this year, said interim Superintendent David Fonseca.

The school system originally issued a two-hour delay to better evaluate road and school building conditions in the daylight, Fonseca said.

School system employees evaluating the roads originally thought schools could safely operate, and buses began their routes, he said.

As it became clear creeks were continuing to rise, the school system decided to cancel school, updating its website around 9:20 a.m., Fonseca said.

The AlertNow phone system was activated at 9:39 a.m. to call all emergency contact numbers for parents and guardians, he said.

The normal snow day list includes only about 5,000 numbers and takes 20 to 45 minutes to cycle through, he said.

The emergency contact list has more than 15,000 telephone numbers, meaning some families did not receive the call until well after 10 a.m.

"We do not delay these decisions on purpose," Fonseca said. "There is no way to accelerate this process when you take into consideration the many factors that come into play as far as cancelling school."
Because many buses ran and some delivered children to school before being turned around, the day will count toward state calendar requirements. Fonseca said that was not a factor in the original decision to hold school.

"Certainly it does not count for the education of our children, but it counts for the calendar," Fonseca said.

Fonseca apologized to parents for the lateness of the decision and said the school system cancelled school based entirely on the safety of students, families and staff.

"My hope is that they understand that we're not trying to ruin anybody's day," Fonseca said. "We're trying to consider the safety of our students."

-- Jeff Eason contributed to this story.