Workers pump water from a Kingsport alley. Photo by Rain Smith.
Approximately 12 hours after heavy rains flooded sections of downtown Kingsport — rushing an estimated three and half feet of water down some streets — brooms were swishing over debris-strewn sidewalks and shop vacs were humming inside many stores.
Between trips to the sidewalk with damaged goods, both owners and employees were exchanging their experiences from the previous night with their business neighbors. Appearing especially hard hit were those fronting East Market Street near the corner of Broad, and from there down Broad Street to East Center.
"I'm not kidding you, I've been here since 74, and this is the worst ever," said Marty Mullins from behind the counter of his newspaper and magazine stand, Wallace News.
"It was so high, every time a car passed by it pushed a wave in here."
Mullins says that at 6 p.m. the transformation of Broad Street began, as torrential rains clogged storm drains and the water began to rise.
At the peak of the approximate two hour storm he spotted flower planters floating in the current towards East Center Street and a compact car picked up from it's parking spot and slammed into the side of an unoccupied van.
"It was just a downbust," Mullins said. "If (the city) had a storm drain every 10 feet it would have been the same way."
Around the corner from Wallace News, on West Market Street, Darrell Perry watches a family member mop his barber shop's floor. About six inches of water rushed into the business, where Perry's cut hair for 58 years.
He opens a door at the side of the building to survey the basement. Wooden stairs — which are supposed to lead downward — are floating on their side just below the door, adrift on a estimated seven feet of dark water.
In nearly 60 years of operation in downtown Kingsport, Perry says Central Barber Shop has seen only one other storm that would compare. That was in the early 60s.
"Broad Street was a river," quips one downtown worker who witnessed the flooding. "The alley behind the building was like an ocean."
On Thursday morning men were pumping water from that alley that runs parallel to Broad, wading through ankle deep pools to adjust their lines. At least four other lines were snaking their way out of buildings on the block, pushing a steady stream of water out of businesses and into the streets.
David Lounds drove from Kentucky to Kingsport to survey the damage at his business, Variety Printing and Gifts. A thin layer of mud across the floor is evidence of the water that rushed through the store's doors, funneling in several inches of rain from front to back. He walks between the soaked merchandise and business equipment while shaking his head, estimating damages at between $20,000 and $30,000.
As merchandise and furnishings are emptied onto the sidewalks, a man rides his bicycle from door to door. He offers a help to all he passes, a card with his cell phone number to those who may want it later down the road.
J.S. Moore is not a store owner or employee — just a guy with two shop vacs and sense of community.
"I'm from Kingsport, and I'm here for that reason," said Moore, who rode his bicycle to downtown from his home off Center Street. "I care about this place, and sometimes people won't ask for help."
Moore soon finds a taker on his offer, and goes to work unloading tables and chairs from the art gallery of Suzanne Barrett Justis. He then runs a shop vac over a soaking wet carpet, having to empty it after less than a minute.
"Everybody ought to pitch in," says Moore. "I'm surprised there aren't more people here."