Local News

Floodwaters Wash Out Railroad Bridge; Charlotte 5-Year-Old Missing

Posted July 23, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Floodwaters washed out a railroad bridge, plunging five train cars into a creek, and rescue teams searched for a child missing after a 10-inch rainfall swamped south-central North Carolina.

The worst was yet to come, however. The remnants of Hurricane Danny were expected to reach the state later in the day. Forecasters said that storm could dump 9 more inches on the central and western portions.

The storm was blamed for one death. Barbara White Freeman, 59, of Gastonia died after being trapped by floodwaters while driving down a downtown Charlotte street, emergency officials said.

The CSX coal train went into Little Sugar Creek in Charlotte after the trestle gave way.

The crew evacuated before the bridge collapsed and five cars went into the creek, spilling about 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel, officials said. A nearby public housing project was evacuated because of the potential threat from the spilled fuel, authorities said.

Meanwhile, searchers looked for a 5-year-old girl reported missing after falling in a Charlotte creek, said city spokeswoman Julie Hill. Four companions were found safe.

Emergency crews used rubber boats to rescue 22 people from flooded homes along Sugar Creek overnight, said Capt. Tim Rogers of the city's fire department.

``Everyone in these homes was in peril at one point,'' he said. ``The water started to come up real fast, but fortunately we were ahead of the game.''

Rod Gonski, a forecaster for the weather service in Raleigh, said tropical moisture brought into the area by Hurricane Danny was responsible for the heavy rainfall.

The heavy rains flooded creeks and underpasses in Charlotte, where a record 6.14 inches fell between midnight at 2 p.m. Stalled cars and tractor-trailers were scattered throughout the city. Up to 10 inches fell in other parts of south-central North Carolina.

About 400 residents of Charlotte's Doral and Cavalier apartment complexes, and up to another 100 people living in residences were evacuated when a nearby stream overflowed its banks, said John McGillicuddy, Mecklenburg County's emergency services coordinator.

Ray Tallchief, a resident of the Cavalier apartments, said it was the second time in two years he had to evacuate. The same area was flooded in August 1995.

``We lost our car the last time,'' said his roommate, Derek Oliver. ``And it happened the same time both times - at five o'clock in the morning.''

About 5,100 Duke Energy customers were without power in Charlotte and outlying areas, and shelters were set up at two schools. The city's year-round schools were closed and non-essential city employees were urged to stay home. Power outages also were reported in Salisbury, Gastonia and Greensboro.

Aaron Deese, Stanly County's emergency services director, said three people were rescued by boat Wednesday from the roof of Allison Manufacturing, an Albemarle clothing plant. ``The water was within a few feet of the top of the roof,'' he said, adding that a flooded creek sent the water surging into the plant.

A county backhoe knocked a hole in a dam on Meadow Creek in Locust to relieve pressure from a lake that threatened to collapse the dam, said Deese.

``Now they're working on a siphon operation,'' he said. ``They cut 6-inch pipes to take water out of lake, over the dam, into the creek.''

In Moore County, a motorist had to swim out of his car when floodwaters caught him in a low-lying spot, said George Gullickson of the county emergency management office.

``He had to roll down his window and swim to a bank. When he got to the bank, his car was completely submerged,'' he said.

By PAUL NOWELL,Associated Press Writer Copyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.