State Prepares to Pump Flooded Community with More Rain Coming

More rain could complicate plans to drain the flooded stretch of Alabama 101 and Lawrence 406. Alabama Department of Transportation Civil Engineer Dallon Ogle said his department plans to use 6-inch pumps to move water out of the area.

by Michael Wetzel, The Decatur Daily, Ala. / March 8, 2019

(TNS) - With more than two dozen residents in northwest Lawrence County still facing challenges from the last bout of extreme weather, the weekend forecast calls for up to 3 more inches of rain and possible damaging winds.

Alabama 101 and Lawrence County 406 remained several feet underwater Thursday afternoon about 3 miles north of the Town Creek Municipal Building. That left Kenneth Perkins and 25 other residents of Lennon Hill virtually stranded. Since the deluge almost two weeks ago, they've been using a makeshift walkway of wooden pallets over a mushy area to walk to their cars parked at the Wash Chilla cemetery on higher ground.

“I hauled eight vehicles out of the flooded area to the graveyard, and now people can walk about a half-mile to get to their vehicles and drive to where they need to,” Perkins said. “But our main concern is getting help in here in case of an emergency. If I cut my hand and it is going to take responders six hours to get in here, it’ll be my funeral.”

National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Stump in Huntsville said the region could get more rain today after sunrise and possible threatening weather Saturday.

“We could have damaging winds and tornadoes possible on Saturday afternoon and evening,” he said. “However, the higher and more severe threat will be to the west into Mississippi. We are expecting to get 1 to 2 inches of rain, and some places could get as much as 3 inches that might lead to minor flooding.”

More rain could complicate plans to drain the flooded stretch of Alabama 101 and Lawrence 406. Alabama Department of Transportation Civil Engineer Dallon Ogle said his department plans to use 6-inch pumps to move water out of the area to Meadow Branch along Lawrence County 268. The creek flows into the Town Creek waterway and then to the Tennessee River. He said the lingering flood results from a topographic depression.

“It’s generally not a problem because it infiltrates as fast as it settles,” he said. “But in this case we’ve gotten so much rain so fast, infiltration was slow because the ground was so saturated.”

ALDOT spokesman Seth Burkett said pumping could begin as early as this morning. He said the agency will pay about $3,000 per week to rent the pumps.

“If we wait for the area to drain itself,” he said, “it might be weeks.”

According to the National Weather Service, north Alabama received 13.63 inches of rain for February, 8.7 inches above normal.

The Dec. 1 to Feb. 28 total was 30.58 inches, the highest amount since records started being kept in 1950.

An ALDOT crew used drones to measure the flooded acreage Thursday afternoon. “We had two drones flying at the same time taking images and a little bit of video,” said J.D. D’Arville, ALDOT data management administrator.

Burkett said once the water is off the road, ALDOT will have to do an inspection of Alabama 101 before opening it up to traffic.

“We know the ground is going to be saturated,” he said. "We might have to restrict heavier traffic.”

Perkins, 45, and other nearby residents along Lawrence County 406 were excited to hear of the state’s pumping plans, but he wants officials to help ensure the flooding doesn’t become a common occurrence.

“Even if they pump the water out, Lennon Hill still needs an emergency exit,” he said. “We’re afraid if they pump the water, the county won’t build it. We know the (flooding) will happen again. … It’s 2019. We’re back to the old days. We want to get out and don’t want it to happen again. They built up 406 30 years ago and it hasn’t flooded since (until now).”

Lawrence County Engineer Winston Sitton said once funding comes available, 406 will be raised.

“It’ll be cheaper to raise 406 than it will be build another road they’re talking about.”

Curtis King, 64, who lives near Perkins, said he has noticed the flooding has gotten snakes out of their hibernation. “I don’t want to walk through a graveyard with snakes to get to my car,” he said. “But my main concern is this flooding could cost somebody their life.”

Perkins said District 1 Commissioner Jesse Byrd, Sitton and local first responders have been responsive to their needs. He said the Red Bank Volunteer Fire Department brought food and supplies to them one day. He said Byrd and Sitton visited one day last week and the next morning the county delivered several trucks of gravel to the cemetery road to help vehicles pass through.

Lennon Hill resident Ronnie Harris, 61, said he has lived in the community his entire life and has never seen the water at the level it is.

“Not even the flood in 1973 was this bad. It surprised all of us when the water all of sudden came up like it did,” he said. "It usually takes us five minutes to drive to Town Creek. Now we have to go north and come back around by the paper mill and it takes us about 15 or 20 minutes.”

While the mail can’t be delivered to Lennon Hill, Perkins said the Town Creek Post Office bundles the residents’ mail and someone from the community picks it up once or twice a week.

Stump said today’s high should reach into the mid-50s with highs on Saturday going into the upper 60s. Sunday’s forecast will be in the upper 60s with clear skies.

— or 256-340-2442. Twitter @DD_Wetzel.


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