Damage from flooding becomes apparent

Discarded cases of beer from a Mapco gas station on Alabama Highway 35 fill a dumpster following Monday’s flooding. There’s a Mapco station directly across the highway still operating. 

DeKalb County Commission President Ricky Harcrow said county road crews are working to repair roads damaged by flooding.

“The Emergency Management Agency, both local and State, assessment people are still doing their calculating of the damage,” Harcrow said. “Hopefully the weather will cooperate with us where the road crews can get all the washouts passable, to some degree, very soon, but we will have to go back and redo all of the damaged places.

“Coupled with the virus, all this has severely crippled us, and every county, greatly. All of Alabama has some problems, but especially North Alabama and West Alabama, where the terrain is more difficult to deal with. North Alabama has it all to deal with: flat land, mountains and rolling hills. Hopefully, we will meet the damage threshold, from a state perspective to help us with funding we just do not know as of yet,” Harcrow said.

Local tourism had already taken a big hit because of social isolating during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.

On Monday, the Visit Lookout Mountain Alabama information center on Alabama Highway 35 was flooded due to heavy rains. Executive Director John Dersham said information on computers was backed to the cloud, but $40,000 worth of printed promotional guides stored inside was destroyed.

“The water level was up to three feet inside,” Dersham said Monday.

His staff were already working from home to follow the State Health Order shutdown, and Dersham said they will likely continue doing so even after the stay-at-home order is lifted because the office will have significant water damage.

The same building is shared by the DeKalb County Economic Development Authority led by Jimmy Durham.

Dersham said the county owns the building.

“We are trying to figure out what to do next. I met [Monday morning] with city and county officials, as well as State House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville),” he said.

Ledbetter said he viewed the damage in several communities and was working with EMA and Gov. Kay Ivey’s office to document the situation.

He encouraged all affected mayors to keep receipts and paperwork related to the disaster in case they qualify for reimbursement.

Also flooded during Monday’s disaster were the TitleMax store, Mapco gas station, a vacant space that previously held Classic Oak Furniture, the WZOB AM radio station and the Burger King, Hardees, Chow King and Applebee’s restaurants.

The Days Inn and Holiday Inn Express managed to escape the rising waters, although the roads connecting to their parking lots were inaccessible.

Doris Winkler Hobbs, a 37-year employee of the classic country radio station, said this was the second major flood she’s been through.

“The Lord will see us through! WZOB will come out on the other side stronger and better than ever. Thanks to the Kirby family for the opportunity of being part of the WZOB radio family,” Hobbs wrote on her Facebook.

There was reportedly five feet of muddy water inside the radio station at the height of the flooding Monday.

The owners of Chow King restaurant, Wang and Yong Chen, told WHNT 19 that the floodwaters destroyed everything, but they vowed to rebuild.

“The area is prone to flooding. They widened Big Wills Creek, which has helped to avoid flooding situations, but this was just too much water in too short of a time,” Dersham said.

The same area flooded in May 2003, temporarily cutting off access to the hospital after nearly 5 inches of rainfall in five hours. National Guard vehicles and rafts were necessary to cross the flooded road. One of the business owners at the time said it had flooded in his building seven or eight times prior because it had been built prior to the enforcement of building codes.

DeKalb EMA listed the following county roads (CR) as receiving damage in the floods:

• District 1: CR 739, CR 667, CR 635, CR 712, CR 641 and CR 757

• District 2: CR 360, CR 28, CR 1986, CR 388 and CR 33

• District 3: CR 39 and CR 51

• District 4: CR 44, CR 143, CR 92 and CR 695

The National Weather Service in Huntsville reported widespread rainfall of three- to four-inches while a gauge in Sylvania indicated more than six-and-a-half inches had fallen during Easter Sunday thunderstorms. Two tornadoes touched down in DeKalb County.

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