Florence floods Durham, Orange roads and shopping centers, forces evacuations. Driving hazardous

More drenching rain from Tropical Storm Florence made driving hazardous Monday and forced some residents to flee rising floodwaters.

The morning commute was slow-going for many who found themselves driving through deep water and, in some cases, coming to a complete stop. Videos posted on social media showed water covering heavily traveled roads, including Franklin Street in Chapel Hill and Duke Street in Durham.

Chapel Hill officials said more than 6 inches had fallen in the last 24 hours, and nearly 9 inches in the last three days.

“The rains fell fast this morning which caused the flood waters to rise at an astounding rate,” Emergency Management Coordinator Vencelin Harris said.

The National Weather Service is forecasting a high of 84 on Tuesday and a 30 percent chance of showers. The rest of the week remains clear with highs in the 80s.

Many roads in Orange and Durham counties still remained impassable by afternoon, and both counties warned drivers to remain cautious. Orange County posted a list of roads to avoid. Durham County also released a list of roads to avoid.

Durham Police issued a list of road closings just before 4 p.m.:

Garrett Road at Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard split

Westgate Drive at Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard

Rippling Stream at 200 Seven Oaks Road

Infinity Road at Windermere Drive (closed indefinitely)

The N.C. Department of Transportation also warned drivers Monday afternoon to avoid the stretch of N.C. 54 East, between Mandy Court and Interstate 40, near the N.C. Wildlife Resources’ Waterfowl Impoundment Area. Flooding has closed the roadway, officials said.

In Chapel Hill, the Eastgate Crossing and University Place parking lots were flooded.

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Rain from the remnants of now-Tropical Storm Florence pushed waters over the Jones Ferry Road bridge at University Lake, just west of Carrboro, around 9:20 a.m. Monday. Jones Ferry Road also was impassable a few miles to the west. Carrboro Police Department Contributed

In Carrboro, police blocked several roads as the rains pushed creeks and University Lake over their banks, including the Jones Ferry Road bridge over the lake and the busy North Greensboro Street and Estes Drive intersection. Smith Level Road in Carrboro also was closed for a time after a tree fell across it early Monday.

Carrboro police said Monday afternoon the Jones Ferry Road bridge would be closed until NCDOT crews could inspect it.

Crews were still checking on floodprone areas, Carrboro Fire Chief Susanna Williams said in an email, including neighborhoods west of town near Jones Ferry Road and Springhill Forest Road. Emergency responders were working with neighboring agencies to respond to that area, where the road was washed out and impassable, she said.

A Durham Public Schools school bus was stuck on Pickett Road the morning of Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, after it turned around to avoid the overflowing Mud Creek that covered the bridge and the road. About a dozen students from Forest View Elementary were shuttled to school, a parent said. Virginia Bridges vbridges@heraldsun.com
Chatham County authorities also were monitoring local waterways: The Haw River was forecast to crest at 6 p.m. at 14.8 feet, and the Deep River in Moncure was expected to crest at 15.7 feet.

The Powell House on West Salisbury Street in Pittsboro was inundated with water. In Siler City, Wren Memorial Library was damaged and closed until further notice.

The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office reported numerous road closings. A section of Morris Road was washed out by swiftly moving water, while one of the roads leading to Pittsboro Elementary School was cut by floodwaters when a culvert collapsed.

Just over 1,170 people in Chatham County were still without power at 1 p.m. Monday.

School decisions

Bus drivers with Orange County Schools and Durham Public Schools also contended with torrential rains and flooded roads Monday morning. Students stood in the pouring rain, trying to stay out of the spray from passing cars, as they waited for their buses to arrive.

A DPS bus picking up kids from Forest View Elementary got stuck on Pickett Road, when the bus driver tried to turn around to avoid Mud Creek. The creek was flowing well over over the Pickett Road bridge Monday morning.

About a dozen students were eventually shuttled to the school by staff, a parent said.

Parents and residents in both counties criticized the districts for holding classes. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, after debating whether to open two hours late, called off school altogether Monday.

Orange County district officials apologized in a Facebook post.

“When we make decisions to close or delay or open schools, safety is always our top priority,” district officials said. “Though we lead with safety, we might not always get the decision correct. Today is one of those days.”

Orange County students were dismissed two hours early Monday to avoid more rain that was expected in the afternoon. The district also canceled afterschool activities and said any student who missed school on Monday would be excused, officials said.

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Some streets in the Old Farm neighborhood in northern Durham near the Eno River were flooded on Monday Sept. 17, 2018 and emergency officials helped evacuated people from their homes. Virginia Bridges vbridges@heraldsun.com


Although Carrboro only reported a few people evacuated from the Estes Park Apartments, police reached out to multiple neighborhoods. Residents in the Yorktown and Heritage Hills neighborhoods decided to stay in their homes, Williams said.

Chapel Hill police and the South Orange Rescue Square rescued about 40 people Monday from stranded cars and flooded homes, including Camelot Village Condominiums, Brookwood Condominiums, Booker Creek Townhouse Apartments, Ridgefield Apartments, and the Airport Gardens public housing community.

By Monday morning, the floodwaters had reached 10.5 feet, equal to flood levels seen during a devastating June 2013 flood at Camelot Village. That storm damaged 72 of 116 condos, forcing residents to evacuate and many to move away. Another flood followed in December 2013, affecting 21 condos.

The complex has been evacuated multiple times in the past for flooding. Although the town contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency more than once about buying out the complex, which was built in 1967 between two floodplains, officials have not been able to strike a deal with condo owners, many of whom do not live there.

Orange County opened a shelter Monday afternoon at the Department of Social Services Commons, located at 113 Mayo St. in Hillsborough for displaced residents. The shelter will be open up to 72 hours and is pet friendly, Orange County officials said.

In Durham, emergency officials evacuated the residents in the Old Farm neighborhood, who had watched the Eno River rising behind their homes throughout the morning.

Mike Wendt said the river was normal around 7 a.m. Monday, but by 9:30 a.m., it was coming up his more than 75-foot driveway.

“It reached two inches below where it was with [Hurricane] Fran,” said Wendt, 77, who has lived in the area for 43 years.

Wendt loaded a couple of families into his red canoe and helped them get out of their homes before emergency crews came to let them know about the flooding, he said.

It did not appear that the water went into many of the homes, but a few cars stalled out and others were flooded by the rising water, residents said.

Steve Hammer, 40 , looks at his Pontiac G6, which he had left at Eastgate Crossing on Sunday night. He said the water peaked at the door handles before subsiding. Mark Schultz mschultz@newsobserver.com

Shopping center flooded

Businesses and homes in Chapel Hill from Eastgate Crossing to Estes Drive, and east to Ephesus Church, Willow and Legion roads, were especially affected by floodwaters. The area is one of the lowest in southern Orange County, much of it in the floodplains from Booker and Bolin creeks.

But the flooding at Eastgate was some of worst longtime residents said they had seen. Around the corner, the Mariakakis Shopping Center also was hit hard by rising water from Booker Creek, which flows behind it and past the new Fordham Boulevard apartments being built on the edge of the creek.

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Nicholas Ebel, 12, of Chapel Hill rides a skimboard on the flooded parking lot at Eastgate Crossing shopping center in Chapel Hill on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. Mark Schultz mschultz@newsobserver.com

As young people skimboarded and rode their bikes through the flooded parking lot, Carrboro resident Steve Hammer took off his shoes, rolled up his jeans and waded into the muddy, brown water.

His 2005 Pontiac G6 sat with floodwaters halfway up its wheels — and a line of dirt just below the door handles where the water had peaked.

Steve Hammer, 40, of Carrboro, just bought his Pontiac G6 two months ago. Water reached the door handles before it began subsiding Monday morning at Eastgate Crossing in Chapel Hill. Mark Schultz mschultz@newsobserver.com

“The battery shorted,” said Hammer, 40, who recently moved from Raleigh. He had left the car in the parking lot Sunday night while helping a friend with handyman work in Chapel Hill.

“I didn’t even think about the potential for flooding,” he said.

Hammer took an Uber back to Eastgate on Monday morning, and when he saw the water covering the parking lot said, “Oh crap, my car’s in there.”

He bought the car two months ago from a friend, Hammer said.

“I’m still making payments on it.”

Staff writer Joe Johnson contributed to this report.

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