By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Flooding and concerns about possible dam failures on the New River in Carroll County prompted Pulaski County to declare a state of emergency and issue mandatory evacuations in the Parrott, Belspring, Hiwassee, Delton, and Allisonia communities Thursday.
Assistant County Administrator Robert Hiss said a reverse 911 call was issued to the communities to advise citizens of the danger, while law enforcement officers and fire department personnel went door-to-door to make sure the warning was received.
Josh Tolbert, county emergency management coordinator, said door-to-door contact was made with about 80 homes and many residents were ready to leave when they arrived.
A shelter staffed by Red Cross volunteers and Department of Social Services personnel was set up at the Pulaski County High School gymnasium overnight.
The dangers posed by flooding from Wednesday evening’s heavy rains was enough concern for emergency personnel, but concerns were elevated around 11 a.m. when Appalachian Power Co. issued a warning of possible dam failures on the New River downstream in Carroll County.
In a press release issued at that time, APCo spokesman Todd Burns said flows had increased so drastically at its Byllesby and Buck hydroelectric facilities near Ivanhoe in Carroll County that water was flowing over the dam and flashboards, causing the water pressure to build up to potentially unsafe levels behind the dams.
Burns explained that flashboards are oak boards atop a dam structure that are designed to give way. In this case, they needed to be removed by hand, but removal was delayed until about 1 p.m. because flooding was preventing access to the flashboards.
Once they were removed, engineers inspected the dams and determined the structures were stable. At that point, the emergency was downgraded.
That, however, did not prompt Pulaski County to lift the mandatory evacuation notice. Hiss said Thursday evening that the evacuation remained in force because “it is still dangerous to return to these areas, which may be under water and impassable by vehicles. Many roads will also become dangerous this evening as temperatures drop causing slick, icy areas and debris from the flooded roads will remain.”
As of the county’s 5 p.m. update Wednesday, Hiss was reporting that Claytor Lake had dropped to its normal full-pond level of 1,846 feet above sea level.
Although he pointed out that none of APCo’s hydroelectric facilities are constructed for flood control, Burns said efforts were being made to assist in controlling flows downstream. He said the company notified emergency services, as necessary, of water releases.
According to Burns, APCo was releasing 72,000 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) from the Claytor Lake Dam. By 4:20 p.m. he said inflows at the dam had decreased enough to allow the spillway gates to be closed. At that point, water release was down to 68,000 cfs.
The lake rose no more than 2.4 feet above full pond, he said.