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Downtown locales cleans up after heavy flash flood

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Mason Monk, a bartender at Chico's Mexican Restaurant, talks with a friend outside the restaurant where his car was flooded. The flood-line is half-way up the side of the car, marked with bits of debris.


The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Business owners and some car owners on Monday cleaned up in the aftermath of flash flooding that struck downtown Greenville near Reade Circle and Cotanche the evening before.

Heavy rains fell within a short amount of time and overwhelmed the city's drainage system on Sunday evening between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Several cars parked at Chico’s Mexican Restaurant were flooded and water entered Chico’s, Jimmy Johns, the Bicycle Post and a storage area for University Book Exchange (UBE).

Chico’s bartender Mason Monk said he left his car parked in the restaurant’s parking lot and did not have time to move it before flood waters came up to his door handles.

“I was not expecting it to be this bad,” Monk said. “I’m going to let the car dry out for a day or two and see what happens.”

According to Greenville’s Public Information Officer Brock Letchworth, the area is prone to flooding.

He said this is one example of why the Town Creek Culvert Project is so necessary.

The three-year project is adding more drainage, a longer pipes and an 80-inch culvert to the downtown infrastructure.

According to Letchworth, the existing infrastructure was built about 1935.

Mike Horton, general manager of Chico’s, said the restaurant is in its 37th year. In that time he has seen it flood about a dozen times.

“When there is a hard rain in a short amount of time, there is nowhere for the water to go,” Horton said.

Despite water that came up to the top step of the building, he reported the restaurant was fine. They were already setting up for lunch early on Monday.

Horton is looking forward to the project’s completion.

“The new culvert should help,” he said. “I am glad they are doing it. With Mother Nature you can’t win 100 percent of the time.”

The new culvert will divert water coming into the area they refer to as the bowl, Letchworth said.

“Water drains down Charles and Cotanche — just like to the bottom of a bowl,” he said.

“The infrastructure improvement will get the water out quicker,” Letchworth said. “It will go a long way in mitigating localized flash flooding.”

In the meantime however, Letchworth said the old infrastructure remains prone to flooding.

“The water just has nowhere to go,” he said.

The culvert project is about halfway complete and is projected to be finished in mid-2020, he said.

Summer storms have potential to produce torrential rains that cause localized flash flooding.

According to National Weather Service Meteorologist Bel Melendez, a lot of rain doused the area in just a few hours.

“About 1.52 inches of rain — to slightly over two inches of rain — fell in approximately two hours Sunday night,” she said.

She said the flooding in the downtown area was an isolated incident.

“One-to-two inches is a typical amount of rain from a summer storm,” Melendez said. “That part of (Greenville) is very urban and the infrastructure is dated. What happened was there was more rainfall than the amount of drainage.”

Melendez said Pitt County will see a small break from showers today but more rain can be expected on Wednesday and Thursday.

She said that on Sunday, the weather station issued a warning there might be strong, localized flooding from heavy rainfall in the Greenville area.

At the Bicycle Post, water traveled all through the store and reached the back wall of the building, according to manager Charlie Smith, bringing sand and mud with it.

Smith said there was no damage to merchandise. A cleaning crew was removing the water and debris on Monday.

“We always get flooded, even if we try to sandbag it,” Smith said. “It is bad.”

She said she is excited about the Town Creek Culvert project being completed.

“I am very happy about it. It is something they have been trying to do for many years,” Smith said.

Next door to the Bicycle Post, Jimmy John’s manager Robert Little said water entered the doorway, but there was no damage and the sandwich shop was fully functioning.

At UBE, sportswear manager Chad Thompson said some water seeped into a storage area.

"This has happened before, so we are extremely proactive and store things in rubber tubs," he said.

Thompson said UBE gets flooding every one or two years.

He feels the Town Creek Culvert project will improve the situation.

“I think it will help,” Thompson said. “I just wish they could have done it 20 years ago.”