While garbage floated out of overturned cans, caramel-colored water bubbled out of manholes and a light-blue van waited half-submerged in the middle of the street, the veterans of Walnut Creek flooding braced themselves for another slog.
Just off Poole Road, south of downtown, Richard Sibomana drove home from working the night shift at Holly Hill Hospital to find a set of Class 2 rapids pouring over the bridge at Rose Lane, blocking the way to his house for at least the fifth time in the last dozen years.
“It’s Mother Nature,” said Sibomana, 25, shrugging.
Down Dacian Road, Marc Campbell stood on the front stoop of his apartment with a crowd of neighbors, staring out at the 3-foot, sewage-smelling lake between him and his work truck.
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“We’re going to watch movies, hang out and hope the water goes down,” said Campbell, 26. “They tried to get me to go to work. Don’t believe I’m going to make it.”
In any hurricane, tropical storm or three-day drenching, a handful of Raleigh spots reliably take the worst blows: Wake Forest Road near the Costco; Atlantic Avenue near Hodges Street; Crabtree Valley Mall. But the neighborhoods that hug Walnut Creek get so routinely pummeled that it’s common to see muskrats swim past. On Tuesday, an owl hooted at noon.
On Dacian Road, just off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, firefighters braved the flood waters to rescue a woman and three children – one of whom had a fever high enough to need hospital care. But other than the driver of the stranded van, most of the residents stayed put, noting that the brown water rose even higher after Hurricane Matthew last fall.
Nautica Jackson, 20, fought her way to the mailbox with her dog, Chestnut. “Are they going to be able to pump the water out?” she asked.
I flipped through some flood maps and found many of these houses built inside the blue blob that extends out from Walnut Creek, which marked the zone with a 1 percent annual chance of flooding, and where flood insurance is required. On Rose Lane, the city built a new $1 million bridge over the creek in the 1990s, but flooding persists.
Across that bridge, water either blocks people out or traps people inside dozens of homes on and around Jimmy Carter Way, built by Habitat for Humanity roughly a decade ago. Residents have noted that Rock Quarry Road runs only a few hundred feet away with no connection to the flood-prone neighborhood.
“I’ve been here all my life, and I wouldn’t stay back there,” said Michael Ray, 53, who lives on the Poole Road side of Rose Lane. “I don’t know why they put apartments back there when it’s in a swamp. Last time, they had to go in and rescue somebody, and the rescuers got caught in the current. It carried them away, and they hit a sign. Had to rescue them.”
The rain cleared up by noon, and the sky turned blue again. The water receded almost as fast as it came – and will come again.