Local News

Lake levels rise, most flooding fears subside after Hanna

Posted September 8, 2008 4:28 p.m. EDT
Updated September 9, 2008 12:03 a.m. EDT

— Johnston County dodged a last-minute salvo from Tropical Storm Hanna when the Neuse River failed to rise above flood stage Monday. But regional lakes reached new heights in the storm's aftermath.

Emergency officials worried that Hanna's heavy rains could cause the Neuse to reach 20 feet at Smithfield – 5 feet above flood stage in an area with a water treatment plant.

At that point, the river "starts to become a concern for us, especially the businesses and the residents that live right alongside the river," Derrick Duggins, Johnston's emergency management coordinator, said.

Duggins said his agency made calls to approximately 12,000 residents and businesses along the river, warning of potential flooding.

However, by lunchtime, the Neuse had not left its banks in Smithfield, and local officials received a fresh forecast predicting it would stay that way.

"The National Weather Service has advised me that the river has crested and that we shouldn't have any other problems with additional flooding," Duggins said.

WRAL News' helicopter, Sky 5, flew over the area, and from Raleigh to Smithfield, the Neuse was swollen but did not burst out of its banks. One crew cleared debris from underneath a bridge, but water continued to flow downstream.

However, Goldsboro should remain on the alert for flooding when the Neuse reaches flood stage there later this week, the National Weather Service warned.

To prevent flooding farther downstream – in places including Smithfield, Clayton and Goldsboro – the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not increased releases from Falls Lake, which 8 feet above normal. Raleigh got 5.19 inches of rain from Hanna.

That level, combined with storm debris, means Falls Lake is the most dangerous it has been for boaters in years, said Penny Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Corps. Debris and snakes float on the lake's surface, and below it lie trees that dried out and tumbled into the lake during the drought.

The Corps will need to increase flows later this week to relieve pressure on the Falls Lake dam, Schmitt said. Flows have already been increased from Jordan Lake, which is 6.4 feet above normal.

Hanna also gave a welcome boost to lakes and the water supply in Orange County.

The Orange Water and Sewer Authority, which serves the Chapel Hill and Carrboro area, said it lake levels were up from 79 percent full Friday to 95 percent full Monday morning. That gives OWASA a year's supply of water on hand.

Cane Creek Reservoir received 3.81 inches of rain and went from 5 feet below normal to a little more than a foot below normal. University Lake, which got 5.26 inches of rain, was overflowing Saturday.