Rising Roanoke River forces evacuations and vehicle rescues
ROANOKE — The Roanoke River was expected to crest at just above 16 feet early Friday morning — the level considered a major flood — as at least two Roanoke neighborhoods and a motel were evacuated and swift-water crews rescued people from vehicles trapped in floodwaters.
No injuries were reported in the three rescues.
The flooding was caused by three days of almost constant rain, the result of a stalled upper-level low-pressure system just west of the state.
Totals of 6 to 10 inches were common in and near the Roanoke Valley, with a few higher amounts along the Blue Ridge south of Roanoke. The rain was expected to diminish to showers overnight Thursday into Friday as the low finally pulled away to the northeast.
Starting before dawn and continuing into Thursday afternoon, Roanoke contacted more than 100 residents and encouraged them to evacuate as a precaution as the threat of more flooding loomed. That included 60 homes in the Piedmont neighborhood of southeast Roanoke and about 13 homes near Spring Valley Lake in southwest Roanoke, where officials were concerned about the safety of an upstream dam.
Roanoke Fire-EMS Battalion Chief Trevor Shannon said there were no other immediate hot spots being monitored by the city.
“We feel we have covered a majority of those areas,” he said. “We do not see any new inundation zones that we have to immediately focus on at this time.”
Emergency coordinators were going to continue to closely watch conditions throughout the night, he said.
Residents were encouraged to be vigilant and keep up with weather reports. Those in floodprone areas might want to consider gathering essentials and moving to higher ground, said city spokeswoman Tiffany Bradbury.
“The evacuations that we’ve done have been done out of an abundance of caution,” said Shannon, noting that water had reached the front door of some houses. “We’re looking at a situation here that we haven’t seen in quite a while.”
The city evacuated the Ramada Inn on Franklin Road late Thursday afternoon as rising water levels encroached on the hotel.
Officials helped move more than 40 guests out of the property, Shannon said. That included a number of homeless people who were being sheltered there under arrangements made by local nonprofits to provide them greater protection amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those people were going to be relocated to other hotels in the city, Shannon said. The American Red Cross said it’s sheltering about 50 people displaced by flooding in the Roanoke Valley.
Elsewhere in the Roanoke Valley, the persistent precipitation filled up the Carvins Cove Dam reservoir and sent about 2 feet of water running into its spillway where it flowed onto Carvins Creek.
The 80-feet-tall concrete dam wasn’t in danger, but a public notice was issued in keeping with regional response plans, according to the Western Virginia Water Authority. The reservoir is a water source for the Roanoke Valley.
The next phase of action under regional plans would be triggered by
4 feet of water overflow that officials didn’t expect would be reached. A 2014 study concluded that the dam could withstand up to 14 feet of overflow, officials said. Water authority staff members were monitoring conditions.
The Smith Mountain Reservoir was on course to exceed its full pond level by 2 feet late Thursday and by 3 feet Friday. Shoreline property owners were urged to secure their boats and move items away from the water.
Patrick Christian looked over the situation outside his home on Thursday as water from the Roanoke River began to seep into his living room.