Rising floodwaters surround vehicles in downtown Kingsport. Ned Jilton II photo.
UPDATE: July 18, 9: 10 a.m. — American Red Cross of Northeast Tennessee teams are assessing damage from Wednesday's flooding today. Anyone with flood damage to the living area of their home should contact the Red Cross at 423-378-8700.
KINGSPORT — An emergency shelter was opened in Kingsport on Wednesday evening after torrential rains flooded streets and homes, stranded motorists and triggered mudslides.
In Scott County, officials dealt with flooding and a multiple structure fire sparked by a downed power line. In Sullivan County, high water flooded homes and caused several roads to be closed.
“It’s absolutely all over,” said Kingsport Police Department Public Information Officer Tom Patton. “The downtown area is consumed. We literally have knee-deep water in buildings downtown.”
One downtown business owner said at one point the water was flowing through the streets like a river.
“It was just like it turned into a river,” said Pat Houchens, owner of P&J’s Antiques on Broad Street. “It just flowed down Broad and from Market this way, and it just culminated right here (on Market Street). It’s just sad because all of these businesses have water in them.”
Houchens said she had never seen flooding of that magnitude in the downtown area in the 17 years she’s owned her business.
Exact numbers were not available late Wednesday, but Patton said Kingsport police and fire personnel had rescued “numerous” motorists from flooded, stranded cars.
He also said an “extensive” rescue operation was conducted at a structure on Wexler Street, where multiple residents were successfully brought to safety.
As of 10 p.m., there were no known serious injuries to anyone in Kingsport.
An excessive amount of electrical activity was reported in the city throughout the late afternoon and evening, sparking some fires. Patton said the land along a few roadways had also given way because of the rain, spurring mudslides that covered portions of streets.
Officials temporarily opened emergency shelters at the Civic Auditorium and the Kingsport Community Church of God. They were later closed, with those needing aid directed to a Red Cross shelter at the old Lynn View School.
However, city residents were urged to leave their homes only if necessary, as police cruisers were getting bogged down by the high waters. Early Wednesday night, police were mostly using four-wheel-drive vehicles to respond to calls.
“We’re getting more fire calls and rescue calls then we have personnel at the moment,” Patton said shortly before 8 p.m.
The potential for flooded roadways remains for this morning throughout Northeast Tennessee and portions of Southwest Virginia.
Authorities urge motorists never to attempt driving through a submerged street or road.
“We’ve got Dumpsters floating down the road,” Patton said. “There’s any number of things that could be in your path.”
City fire and police personnel established a command center at Kingsport Central Dispatch during the worst of Wednesday’s weather event. Patton said one thing working in favor of emergency responders is that the majority were scheduled to work Fun Fest events Wednesday night. Those events were canceled, which left personnel ready to quickly respond to the numerous emergencies.
While authorities in Kingsport dealt with several feet of water in the downtown area, firefighters from four departments in Scott County were dispatched to a multiple structure fire in the Duffield area early Wednesday evening that was caused by downed high-voltage power lines.
Duffield Volunteer Fire and Rescue Chief Roger Carter said the downed lines charged the ground where they fell, causing five structures at the intersection of Natural Tunnel Parkway and Bowie Drive and several cars to catch fire.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Carter said. “I’ve been doing this for 26 years, and I’ve been a chief for 15 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Carter said two single wide trailers, a double wide trailer and two garages all caught fire. Another nearby home was also damaged.
Carter said three Duffield firefighters responding to the scene were shocked after exiting their truck and stepping on the charged ground. The firefighters were not seriously injured, Carter said.
Appalachian Power had to shut off electricity to the lines before crews could rescue the occupants of the homes or fight the fires. No one was injured in the fire, and Carter said the Red Cross has been called in to assist those who were displaced.
Around 30 volunteer firefighters from Duffield, Gate City, Weber City and Fort Blackmore responded to the fires. Carter said the incident caused Natural Tunnel Parkway to be closed for approximately four hours.
In southern Scott County, authorities were busy responding to flooding in Gate City, as well as the Weber City, Daniel Boone, Copper Creek and Big Moccasin areas. Scott County Emergency Management Director Jeff Brickey said the majority of flooding Wednesday evening was limited to creeks and streams.
Gate City Mayor Frances Perry said a portion of U.S. Route 23 closed at one point until floodwaters subsided on the west end of town. Grogan Park was also reportedly covered with an estimated 3 feet of water, Perry said.
Back in Sullivan County, most major flooding was limited to the Bloomingdale and Orebank areas, Sullivan County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Bean said.
The worst of the flooding in the Bloomingdale area was concentrated on Lucy Drive, Bean said.
“There was obviously a lot of water out there,” Bean said. “There were about 20 people evacuated from the Link House out there, and once the houses were cleared and people were out of the cars things were good.”
Localized flooding was also experienced in other parts of the county, Bean said, including Colonial Heights and Rock Springs.
Bean said the number of roads closed throughout the county due to the flash flooding was in the double digits, as were the amount of flood-related emergency calls the county emergency services received.
As of 10 p.m., those calls were slowing down as the rains began to subside, Bean said.
“We’ve quit receiving a lot of calls for assistance, so most of our units are available,” Bean said. “A lot of the water is receding, so it looks like everything is starting to calm down.”
As a result, Bean said the county would be reviewing the need to keep its remaining shelter open.
“All but two people that came to the shelters have been picked up by family members and taken somewhere else, so we closed the temporary shelter,” Bean said. “We still have the Red Cross at Lynn View Middle Schools, but we only have a couple of people there. We’ll make a determination on it shortly.”