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Heartbreaking’ Scene At Flooded North Carolina Campground; Flooding Remains a Threat in Some Areas

Published in 14 November, 2020

At a Glance

  • The fifth victim was a 1-year-old child.

  • At least nine people died during flooding fueled by Eta.

  • Rising rivers remain a threat.

Up to 14 feet of water covered the Hiddenite Hills Campground in North Carolina as floodwaters fueled by what was Tropical Storm Eta rushed in early Thursday morning.

The bodies of five people swept up in the torrent, including a 1-year-old boy, were later recovered by searchers in what officials said was a tragedy unlike any the area has seen in recent memory.

“I’ve never in my 41 years here can remember anything that’s been as devastating as what’s happened to our county,” Alexander County Sheriff Chris Bowman said in a news conference Friday evening.

While the heavy rain has subsided, the National Weather Service in Raleigh warned Saturday that flooding remained a threat along several rivers in North Carolina, especially the Cape Fear, Pee Dee, Neuse and Tar. Many roads were still impassable, and drivers were being reminded not to go around barricades or try to navigate areas that are closed.

Ryan Mayberry, chairman of the Alexander County commissioners, was privy to details of how the child at the campground died but declined to share them.

“I did hear the story of the baby and how it was lost and I’m not going to repeat that here, but It just breaks my heart,” Mayberry, who grew up in the community where the campground is located, said. “It’s just a terrible, heartbreaking event. I don’t know what I would have done myself. It’s just awful.”

Hiddenite Hills Campground, at the end of a rural road called Princess Lane about an hour north of Charlotte, has 37 campsites for tents and recreation vehicles. There’s a pool, a playground and a volleyball court. Several of the campsites sit directly on the South Yadkin River.

(MORE: Hurricanes Are Staying Stronger Longer After Landfall, And That Could Be Bad News For Inland Communities)

Doug Gillespie, the county’s director of public services, estimated about 7 inches of fell on the campground between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. Thursday. The river overflowed its banks and covered campsites with between 11 feet and 14 feet of water, he said.

Some of those affected by the flooding were permanent residents at the campground, according to the Charlotte Observer. Children’s bikes and toys were scattered among the debris.

The bodies of the 1-year-old and an adult male were found Friday. Bowen said the adult male and his camper had been swept about 700 to 800 feet away from where they were when the water rushed in. Three other bodies were found Thursday, when 31 people were rescued.

Mayberry said the floodwaters washed out 15 to 20 roads and some bridges.

“It’s going to take a long time to get our county back where it was,” he said.

At least four others were killed in the heavy rains and flooding in North Carolina, including an 11-year-old girl who drowned and three who died in vehicle accidents.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued a state-wide disaster declaration Friday, as water continued to flood homes and roadways. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management issued voluntary evacuation orders early Friday morning for a neighborhood on the Catawba River. A shelter for residents was opened at Hopewell High School in Huntersville.

A northbound section of Interstate 95 in Johnston County that was closed reopened Friday afternoon with one lane. Water caused the pavement to buckle and repairs are expected to be done next week, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Statewide, the North Carolina Department of Transportation listed more than 265 road closures and other incidents associated with the rain as of about 11 a.m. EDT Saturday. That was down from more than 400 Friday morning.

More than 230 road closures were reported on Thursday, including other parts of I-95 and a 20-miles stretch of Interstate 85. Two bridges were washed out in Iredell County and at least three in other areas sustained damage.

Between 2 inches and more than 9 inches of rain fell on parts of North Carolina from Tuesday night to Thursday night, according to the National Weather Service.

What was Tropical Storm Eta helped fuel the rainfall. Moisture from Eta surged northward while a cold front moved through the Eastern states, according to weather.com meteorologist Chris Dolce. This collision resulted in a widespread area of rainfall that started on Wednesday across the East. Some of the most intense rainfall and worst flooding occurred from Virginia into North Carolina, especially on Thursday.

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