Cover Story: Flood prone and flood prep

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Carolinas preparing to get hammered by the remnants of tropical storm Ida.  It's the type of rain event that gets us into trouble, say the experts.  In our Cover Story PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson looks at how local officials are looking out for flooding.

Some ask why is flooding such a problem for Charlotte?  Experts say we've seen so much development, we've lost a lot of our greenspace where rains can soak up the water.

On West Morehead Street over Stewart Creek is one of top 10 highest flood prone areas of town.  In fact, it was here a dozen years ago a driver lost her life going through a flooded street.

It was a carbon copy of what we're up against today.

July 1997, remnants from a tropical storm dumped heavy rain on the Charlotte area over the course of many hours creating havoc and even death.

Flood waters rushing through a creek compromised an earthen embankment.. causing railroad tracks to give way.. a locomotive stuck on the tracks plumetted into the creek below.

Persistent rainfall caused Stewart Creek to overflow its banks.  A Gastonia woman who tried to drive through a flooded street got swept away.  She drowned, her car found hundreds of feet down the creek.

Experts most flood deaths happen in vehicles.  Ninety percent of all natural disasters in America involve flooding.



It's for that purpose an early warning flood system known as FINS.. a joint cooperative between Charlotte Mecklenburg and the US Geological Survey was created.

"All the rain gauges in Mecklenburg county..."

Josh McSwain showed us how the system records rainfall and how much room there is in the creek until it floods.

Late Monday afternoon for example, Little Sugar Creek at Carolinas Medical Center had about eight feet to go before the creek would overtop its banks.

He says this is the type of situation where Charlotte Mecklenburg gets into trouble.  A day of steady rains accompanied by a storm cell that sits over the area and dumps water.  Areas of town prone to flooding do so.

The table is set for another problem, says McSwain. 

"This time of the year is a bad time of the year to have heavy rainfall with the leaf fall. You got all that just clogging up storm drains on the streets.  Debris in the creeks it's tough to deal with because this system's not set up to account for debris in the creeks. It's set up to account for natural conditions."

Clogged debris can create a type of dam in the creek, stopping up the creek, causing flooding.  Crews were out Monday clearing leaves and other debris from storm sewers.