One year ago Monday, Southern Orange County saw its worst flood in what some say was three decades. What have we learned in that time?
***Listen to the Story***
***Listen to a Live Report From June 30, 2013***
“We experienced an historic rainfall here in Chapel Hill,” Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt told the public at a press conference three days after eight inches of rain fell on the town between June 28 and July 1 causing the worst flood in what some say was some 30-plus years. “Five to seven inches in a 24-hour period proved to be too much.”
The heaviest of the rain—5.06 inches—fell within 19 hours.
Chapel Hill’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Robert Bosworth said it was important for everyone to learn from the flood for future events.
“One of the things that we were taught is just how quickly that can happen,” Bosworth said. “Probably the biggest thing we’re doing to prepare is the recognition of how vulnerable we are and making sure that we have those lines of communication up between the different departments so that we can respond as quickly as possible.”
Today, Orange County Emergency Services Director Jim Groves says the county and towns used the event well as a learning experience.
“That area of Chapel Hill is prone to this type of event,” Groves says. “It’s definitely not the first time that the Camelot Village, Brookshire, and (places) like that have been flooded. So, what we’re trying to do is capture the best practices. I can tell you, one of the big outcomes of that is a better way of notifying these people when the waters start to rise to give them plenty of advanced notice that something bad’s getting ready to happen.”
On May 15 this year, Orange County almost found itself in the same situation again. However, the rains didn’t last as long, and the waters quickly receded. Before they did, there was standing water seen near Eastgate Shopping Center on Fordham Boulevard, some people shared pictures of Tom’s Creek at Ashbrook Apartments and Bolin Creek throughout Chapel Hill overflowing, and the Camelot Village Apartments, which were flooded in last year’s storms, were at the brink of evacuation just before the rains ceased.
Last year, June 30 fell on a Sunday. That’s the day on which those 5.06 inches of rain fell on Orange County. Most people were going about their regular business: getting ready for a new week, spending time with family, or maybe just relaxing. But by 3:00 that afternoon, the heaviest of the rains began to fall.
Nearly 150 residences in three apartment and condominium complexes were damaged or destroyed, according to the Town of Chapel Hill.
A shelter was set up at Smith Middle School on the night of June 30 where more than 100 people stayed overnight. When the waters receded, the shelter was moved to University Mall. The Red Cross came in to provide assistance throughout the town.
Groves was only about six months on the job as the director of Orange County EMS when the event took place.
“We look at the need—and we call it unmet needs—but those folks who may not have friends, relatives, or loved ones that they can stay with and their homes destroyed, we need to find a way of taking care of them, providing care for them,” Groves says. “Many times a shelter is the way to go to give them immediate access to go ahead and get out of the elements, making sure they’re taken care of nutritionally and with clothes.”
Despite the many people who were affected, some, like John Edwards—no, not that John Edwards—say they didn’t know the situation was so severe.
“I was completely unaware that a majority of Chapel Hill was flooding the entire time, because I was up towards higher ground, I guess, where I was living,” Edwards says.
But many had a different experience.
“The people were very distraught, having to move,” Northern Chatham County resident Margie Calhoun says. “Everything was wet, cars all messed up, clothing, linens, bed.”
“We had a huge rainstorm from, I think, Saturday night into that Sunday morning, and then we had a kind of a calm-down period during the day, and then we had a huge surge again for about 30 or 45 minutes that afternoon,” Chapel Hill resident Jay Patel says. “I think it was something like 2:00 or 3:00, and within the span of 45 minutes, we just had a huge downpour.”
Some Carrboro residents spoke up with their concerns that the flooding will persist unless the town makes some major changes to its infrastructure.
On South Greensboro Street, Carrboro officials condemned about two dozen homes at the Rocky Brook Mobile Home Park as a result of the rainstorm.
Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle says immediately town officials began studying the flood-prone areas.
“We asked staff over the course of the last year to start investigating whether the increased flooding that we were seeing was the result of new development or perhaps infrastructure, or something that the Town can work to try to address,” Mayor Lavelle says.
She says steps have already been taken to try to ensure the flooding doesn’t happen again.
“We received a report from George Seiz, our director of public works, and it gave us a status report about some studying that had been going on in the last year for these different areas of town,” Mayor Lavelle says. (He submitted a) recommendation that we include and we did budget $20,000 in our upcoming budget to be able to further evaluate engineering costs to decide whether we need some more intensive repair work or study done on several areas of town that seem suddenly more prone to flooding.”
Chapel Hill also raised its Stormwater fees by 75 cents in its fiscal year 2014-15 budget, which takes effect Tuesday. The budget report by Town Manager Roger Stancil says the money will go toward the need for storm water quality and infrastructure projects.
The first floor of Chapel Hill’s Town Hall flooded following the torrential rains soaking carpets, furniture, drywall and the council dias.
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue says, despite the terrible loss and the cost it is taking to repair the building, it has allowed the Town to review how Town Hall is being used.
“We had some impacts at our Town Hall that we’re clearly still working to address, but that’s given us an opportunity to think differently about that facility and to come away with some efficiencies there,” Chief Blue says. “That’s probably a good outcome that came out of that really tough situation.”
The town also had to repair 18 apartments at Airport Gardens, a public housing neighborhood off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The first floor of Town Hall remains closed while repairs and reconstruction are underway. Some offices have been relocated to University Square and University Mall.
Town officials said it may be up to a year before the Town Hall is ready to fully reopen, and repairs could cost as much as $400,000.
The council voted 7-1 November 25 to allocate an additional $860,000 to renovate two-thirds of Town Hall.