Emergency Services On Alert

There’s a flood watch in effect until 6 a.m. Thursday, and local emergency services are preparing for the worst, as well as offering their best advice to citizens.

Orange County Emergency Services Director Jim Groves says that one of his major concerns is that all Orange County residents have access to updates and information from the Weather Service.

“Unfortunately, it’s called a flash flood because it happens in a hurry, versus a traditional flood, which may occur over hours or even days,” says Groves. “It’s been our history here in the county, especially in the south side of the county – Carrboro and Chapel Hill – that these floods happen within just a few hours. And we have to have a really quick way of notifying people.”

Groves says the Weather Service is still the fastest way to get the word out. But Orange County Emergency Services will also be using a Reverse-911 system to notify people living in the worst hazard areas.

By now, Orange County has a pretty good idea of where the worst flooding problems can be expected.

“Estes Drive near 15-501,” says Groves. “Folks are familiar with Camelot Village, the Brookwood area, and those apartments across on South Estes, on the other side of Fordham Boulevard.

“We also know, in the Carrboro area, depending how the rain comes, there is an area there at Smith Level and Merritt Mill. That mobile home park down there has flooded in the past as well.”

Groves advises people to make sure they stay tuned to television or radio, to receive updates and warnings as they come out.

“Have a plan, a way to get out, before the water starts to rise,” he says. “Go to higher ground, have someone that they can meet with. Never walk across water that’s over six inches high. It could sweep your feet out from under you, and you’re going to go downstream, and it’s not going to be good.”

He also warns motorists never to drive across water if you cannot see the roadway, because it could be washed out. As the National Weather Service famously cautions: “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.”

Emergency Management Coordinator for the Town of Chapel Hill Matt Sullivan said that people who were prepared in advance for last summer’s flooding were a major factor is preventing physical injuries.

“We did have some property damage,” he says. “But throughout the storm, we didn’t have any physical injuries, which I think is a testament to, not only our citizens being prepared, but also, to our Emergency Response plans.”

Sullivan says the town regularly takes measures to mitigate the damage of any storm event.

“Our stormwater maintenance folks go out and regularly maintain and look at the storm inlets to make sure that they’re clear of leaves and sticks and debris,” he says. “Because we want to make sure that those inlets and the stormwater system can operate at its maximum capacity.”

Sullivan says that whenever new development occurs in Chapel Hill, the newer stormwater systems continue to be built to bigger standards. As for how much the current stormwater system can handle, Sullivan says the study that could determine that would cost Chapel Hill between $15 million and $20 million.

To obtain regular media releases that include updates on storm conditions, you send a request to info@townofchapelhill.org.


UNC Staff Recognized For Flood Response Efforts

CHAPEL HILL – More than two dozen UNC employees received a standing ovation at a Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday for their response to this summer’s flash flooding which swept through campus.

Alston Gardner, Vice Chair of the Board, praised members of the grounds crew, campus maintenance, building services and housing support for their efforts.

“We really want to thank you, each and every one of you, for making that sacrifice,” Gardner said. “I know sometimes we can’t convince the Legislature to give you guys a raise, but one thing we can do is say thank you for everything you’ve done for us.”

The June 30th flood dumped more than 5 inches of rain in just a few hours, endangering close to 90 buildings across campus.

Only about 14 grounds crew members were on campus due to the upcoming July 4th holiday. Mark Bristol, Director of Building Services, said that they were also were understaffed because it was a Sunday.

“And it just came, and went and these guys were just so spectacular in being able to pick up the phone and say, “I’ll be there.” And it made the clean-up effort go a whole lot smoother than it would have,” Bristol said.

UNC staff member Charles Streeter shared the story of how severe the flooding was at the chemistry facilities, which include a cluster of buildings: Morehead, Kenan and Caudill laboratories; Venable and Murray halls; and parts of Chapman Hall and the Genomic Sciences building.

One of the workers who responded to the flooding there said he saw the rising waters destroy computers, books and carpeting. He even saw a door ripped from its hinges as a result of the fast moving water, as reported in a university publication.

Bristol said the employees stayed well into the early morning hours of July 1st to clean up after the damage was done.

“It was just a great overall team effort,” he said. “These guys were willing to take time away from their homes and get in here and give us a hand because we had our hands full.”

Bristol said the clean-up work continued over the next month and a half to make sure that campus buildings were ready and safe for students to return.