, Corbin, KY

January 17, 2013

The dangers of flood waters are real

The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — “Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day.”

During the last few days many of us have added the umbrella to the list of stuff we carry around every day.

I even heard a nervous joke in a Barbourville convenience store yesterday about “40 days and 40 nights of rain.”

And some Barbourville residents may have reason to worry. I drove around that part of Knox County yesterday surveying some of the flooding in low-lying areas.

I can say I’d definitely be water-watching if I were a resident in some of the homes I saw Wednesday.

In my travels, I came across a few roads which were impassable. I wondered how many drivers took the chance and attempted to traverse the muddy waters in their vehicles.

Even if only one person did it — that’s one person too many.

“Turn around, don’t drown” — we’ve all likely heard those words in some form or fashion.

While these may sound like simple words, too often people take a chance and attempt a drive across a watery roadway.

And get swept to their deaths from the sheer strength of fast-moving water.

And believe me — it happens. Broadcast stations usually televise water rescues only when the victim actually survives.

When I first moved to Albuquerque, N.M., I noticed these huge concrete runoff ditches along various roadways. They were commonly referred to as “arroyos” and it was a fast way to drain heavy rainwater.

Sometimes they were built where you could drive through them.

I landed this factory job through a temp agency there, and it was in an industrial park. The entrance to the park happened to dip down through the arroyo.

I had driven through it for a couple weeks, and one day we got this bad thunderstorm that dumped quite a lot of rain. The storm came and went before lunch, and when the whistle blew I decided to drive over to a fast-food place and eat.

Which, of course, meant driving back through the arroyo.

When I came to it, I noticed an inch or two of water rushing through it and stopped the truck. From the other direction, a car came up to it and just drove on through.

I figured if they could do it in a car, I could do the same in the truck.

So with the window down, I dropped the transmission into gear, and started across.

The water was rushing from the driver’s side to the passenger side in the arroyo. When I hit the water,  the front end pulled to the right by several feet, and when I attempted to correct it, a huge “tidal wave” came up — and poured into my face, my lap, and filled the inside of the truck. And it wasn’t just water — there was grit, gravel, mud, trash and several cigarette butts.

It was pretty nasty — and that was just a couple inches of water.

Of course, flooding isn’t limited to waterways overflowing their banks.

Often, heavy amounts of rain can cause flooding in some houses. I know the den and downstairs kitchen in my house is currently a wading pool and more than 120 gallons have been either swept or pumped out my back door. I live on top of a knob — nowhere near any rivers, creeks or lakes.

Many areas throughout the Appalachians face the same issue — and waters are still on the rise.

If you are in a situation where you may have to evacuate your house, get some supplies and irreplaceable items together quickly and have them ready.

Try not to forget family photos.

More than 40 years ago, Hurricane Agnes swept up the east coast and dumped several inches of rain over parts of northeastern Pennsylvania and New York state. I have a lot of extended family in the Wilkes-Barre area, and the Susquehanna River flows right through there from New York.

Days after the hurricane was gone, high waters came to Wilkes-Barre. The dike, which runs along the riverside, broke in two places, sending walls of water through the town and surrounding communities. My grandparents lived in a nearby town called Kingston, and they were evacuated by force. In the process of hurrying to gather items, my grandmother forgot the family photos. They were on the second floor of the home, but it didn’t matter. The second floor was nearly three stories off the ground, and the only part of the second floor which wasn’t touched by flood waters was a shelf in a closet that was higher than the closet door.

My mother and aunt’s childhood board games were on that shelf — but no pictures. Very few managed to survive the flood of 1972.

The dangers of flood waters are real. Being aware of your surroundings and keeping an eye on the weather may do more than just get you prepared — it may save your life.

John L. Ross is a reporter for the Times-Tribune. He can be reached at