Flash floods swamp Roanoke Rapids

Posted August 24, 2012 9:08 p.m. EDT
Updated August 26, 2012 8:35 a.m. EDT

— Roanoke Rapids lived up to its name early Saturday as up to 11.5 inches of rain fell in four hours, swamping Interstate 95 and flooding about 80 homes and businesses in Halifax and Northampton counties.

"We had the rapids last night, and they were flowing good," Roanoke Rapids resident Jean Rook said.

Rescuers could only reach some people stranded in low-lying areas by boat.

Streets were covered with up to 4 feet of water, police estimated, while standing water created moats around homes, and car ports looked more like boat docks.

Damage assessment teams planned to head out Sunday to see how extensive the damage was to homes.

The deluge pushed the Roanoke River and nearby creeks over their banks, and one creek poured over I-95, closing the highway at Exit 173 until 3 p.m. At one point, traffic

was backed up for 13 miles, according to witness reports.

A creek gouged out feet of ground beneath the intersection of Hamilton and Second streets, eventually causing the roads to collapse.

Rook said she watched the water rise up to her hilltop house.

"It came through my carport like a little river and down my driveway," she said. "Across the street, my neighbor was just sitting on his curb, and the water was coming up about 2 feet like a waterfall."

The storm caught residents of Halifax and Northampton counties off guard.

"I didn't know anything about a storm coming until I heard it early this morning," Rook said.

"The wind was blowing. Water was going up against the walls, the house," said Simon Sumpter, of Roanoke Rapids.

Rainfall totals ranged widely: 2.17 inches at the Halifax-Northampton Regional Airport, 7.55 inches at Roanoke Rapids Lake, 8.35 inches at Lake Gaston and 11.5 inches at a dam 2 miles north of Roanoke Rapids.

Lifelong Roanoke Rapids residents said the flooding was the worst they had seen in 50 years.

"At first, I was kind of excited, because I wanted to see it. Then, when I saw it, I couldn't believe it," resident John Phillips said.

An emergency shelter opened at T.J. Davis Recreation Center was closed late Saturday afternoon.