Worst flood in more than a decade hits Whitley County
The worst is over in regards to flooding in Whitley County following heavy rains over the weekend.
The Cumberland River crested at 28.38 feet in Williamsburg about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, which is the 23rd highest flood level in Williamsburg history, according to the National Weather Service.
“This is probably one of the worst floods we have had in the last 10 years,” said Whitley County Emergency Management Director Danny Moses.
The next highest crest in the last 10 years was at 28.05 feet on March 6, 2015. The last time the Cumberland River crested higher than 20.38 feet was on April 11, 2003, when it reached 28.71 feet, according to the National Weather Service.
The flooding closed or placed several roads under water starting Sunday, including Wolf Creek River Road, Feather Creek Road, Doc Siler Road, Lot Mud Creek Road, various portions of Highway 1804, Skaggs Branch Road and Keswick Road, according to the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department.
It caused the cancellation of school in Whitley County Monday, and forced a two-hour delay Tuesday morning.
In addition, the flooding caused culverts on other roads to wash out and resulted in a mudslide on Jellico Creek Road, Moses said.
Moses noted that Jellico Creek Road also experienced a slide last year that shut the road down and forced the county to make extensive repairs.
Moses said that, fortunately, no homes had been reported as damaged due to flooding.
In addition, a small mudslide forced the closure of the Exit 15 northbound onramp for slightly over an hour Sunday evening, according to the Goldbug Volunteer Fire Department.
The flooding forced three high water rescues Sunday, including a homeless man, who was sleeping in a tent on an air mattress when flood waters came up and swept him about 30 yards down river.
Moses said that Sunday evening a gentleman drove his car into the water in southern Whitley County, but that he and his wife were able to get out of the vehicle and out of flood waters on their own before rescue workers arrived.
“He did have some water in his car that we helped get out,” Moses noted. “We also had a hiker from Georgia that got cut off from his route back on Trail Two at Cumberlands Falls State Park. We went to Long Bottom Road and got him out.”
Moses said volunteer firefighters from Woodbine and Oak Grove volunteer fire departments went into that area on foot and via four-wheelers or side-by-sides looking for the man.
Moses said rescuers on foot first located the lost hiker and then called for a side-by-side to carry him out of the woods.
Moses said he then picked up the hiker in his SUV and took him back to Cumberland Falls State Park.
Moses said that nearly anyone with a creek or body of water beside their road probably experienced flooding at some point Sunday.
Construction of the $20 million Williamsburg floodwall and levy was completed in 1999, and has proven beneficial to the city since that time.
“I think it is of benefit to the town,” Moses said of the floodwall Monday morning. “Second Street did flood last night. It is part of the floodwall but evidently it didn’t get deep enough for the pumps to kick on.”
In addition, Williamsburg saw flooding at Briar Creek Park and water across George Hayes Road.
“The park being flooded there are ways around it. In some of the homes, they are trapped until the water goes down,” Moses noted.
Williamsburg Fire Chief Larry Todd said that if the floodwall wasn’t in place, the river would likely have been encroaching on the downtown area.
“Back in the old days at about 25 to 31 feet you would have South Second Street under water and it would probably be encroaching on Cumberland Avenue and the low lying street areas,” Todd said.
The river would have to reach 39.4 feet before it would top the floodwall in Williamsburg. The highest flood on record was 35.03 feet on April 7, 1977, according to the National Weather Service.
At 37 feet the floodwall would be threatened and a full evacuation of the downtown area would be necessary, according to the National Weather Service.