Kingsport officials say infrastructure held up to flooding

Matthew Lane • Jul 18, 2013 at 5:53 PM

KINGSPORT - Downtown Kingsport experienced some of the worst flooding ever, with dozens of houses, businesses and governmental buildings impacted by Wednesday evening’s sudden rain storm that dropped nearly four inches of water on the Model City in less than two hours.

Though water may very well be in the basement of every building in downtown Kingsport, city officials say the public infrastructure held up well following Wednesday’s storm and that no deaths or major injuries were reported.

"I have worked in Public Works for 35 years, and I’ve never seen downtown flooded like this," said Ronnie Hammond, streets & sanitation manager for the city. "Our crews worked throughout the night trying to help clean up storm damage and (on Thursday) those crews are working in the downtown area and elsewhere trying to clean-up sidewalks and streets."

Kingsport Fire Chief Craig Dye said his department received some calls of downed power lines and trees, people being stranded in their vehicles due to the rising water and a few, unfounded fire calls. Kingsport established a shelter at the civic auditorium, where some displaced residents came, some who could not get home, but no one spent the night, Dye said.

The Kingsport Fire Department also had its trucks out Tuesday night, going street to street downtown, checking to see if anyone had problems with their homes and business.

"Most of the damage, Kingsport-wise, was in downtown. After that it was hit or miss depending on where the flooding hit," Dye said. "The water has receded in downtown and there’s a lot of water damage, mostly to the contents of the buildings, but the buildings themselves are structurally sound."

At this point, flooding was the most severe in the area of downtown, Orebank, Stone Drive, Bloomingdale, Cooks Valley and Fall Creek. Thursday morning, employees with the fire department, risk management, fleet and building departments were assisting the Sullivan County Emergency Management Agency in assessing property damage to commercial and residential properties within the Model City, with the results being forwarded on to the state EMA office.

"This information is used in determining if sufficient losses have occurred to declare a disaster and seek state and federal assistance," said assistant fire chief Scott Boyd.

Miles Burdine, president and CEO of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, said his office of small business development is currently exploring if it could assist in securing disaster relief for the downtown businesses.

Volunteers and chamber employees were on hand Wednesday evening offering assistance to those impacted by the rising flood waters and by Thursday morning employees had brought down shop vacs, squeegies and push brooms and began distributing work gloves, sanitizers and trash bags to business owners along Market Street - easily the most impacted street in downtown Kingsport.

"What happened, I’ve never seen in my lifetime," Burdine said. "But the spirit of Kingsport was alive and well and before I showed up today, the staff and volunteers came in and were already organizing and stuffing bags full of cleaning supplies to help the businesses."

Three city buildings did sustain significant flooding during Wednesday’s rainstorm, including the Renaissance Center, the basement of City Hall, and the Traffic Division building. Road damage was reported in Palomino Acres in the Cooks Valley area, on Sussex Drive, at the intersection of Market and Commerce in downtown and a 20-foot stretch of the Kingsport Greenbelt near the John B. Dennis Highway was also damaged by the flooding.

Public Works Director Ryan McReynolds said the public infrastructure has held up fairly well.

"We definitely had lots of water in the road," McReynolds said. "With that type of rain event, I don’t think any storm drain could handle that. Four to five inches over a two-hour period...it’s very difficult to manage that type of rain event."

Kingsport Board of Education Administrative Coordinator Andy True said the flooding impacted several school properties as well.

The Dobyns-Bennett High School field house, two wellness rooms, and the swimming area sustained some flooding, and the cafe roof leaked. The Palmer Center, Jefferson Elementary and both Robinson and Sevier middle schools also flooded to some degree, with all schools reporting roof leaks of some sort.

By Thursday morning, much of the water had been mopped up with no major losses reported, True said.

Around 1,000 Kingsport were still without electricity Thursday afternoon as crews from Appalachian Power Company worked to restore service.

Appalachian spokesman Todd Burns said that number was down from the 3,600 customers who were without power in and around Kingsport late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.

Burns said the outages could be attributed to not only downed trees, but also to the amount of lightning activity that accompanied the severe storms.

Burns said Appalachian crews were continuing to work throughout the day Thursday to ensure power was restored to as many customers as possible. Burns did not have an estimate for when full service would be restored.

The National Weather Service reports the rains came from the northeast and traveled to the southwest, the opposite of the vast majority of storms that generally travel from the southwest to northeast. Gate City through Bloomingdale to just south of Bristol were the hardest hit areas of the region, receiving three to four inches of rainfall, the NWS reports.

Kingsport maintains rain gauges at all construction sites around the city, and while not official and subject to variability, give a glimpse of the extremely localized nature of the storm.

Areas like Edinburgh South and Saint Andrews Garth in the Rock Springs Road area saw about eight tenths to one inch of rainfall while gauges in Lynn Garden, South John B. Dennis, MeadowView, and Rock Springs Road at Interstate 26 recorded 2.5 to 2.6 inches.

A Fort Henry Drive rain gauge near Wal-Mart collected 2.2 inches or rain, while a private rain gauge in Crown Colony collected 3.8 inches. A second private rain gauge in Preston Forest logged 4.8 inches.

The official NWS rain gauges at the Tri-Cities Regional Airport, Fall Branch and Johnson City all reported less than two inches of rain.

If you are aware of any damages caused by the flooding in your area or damages that directly affected your property, please contact the Sullivan County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) at (423) 323-6912. You will be asked to provide your name, phone number, home address and to provide a brief description of the damages incurred.

Staff writer Wes Bunch contributed to this report.

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