Business

‘It looks like we’re going out of business’; Flood-prone areas brace for Florence

David Hewitt, left, and Ed Piewonsky, right, members at 12th State Crossfit in Raleigh, help sandbag the building in preparation for Hurricane Florence on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. The gym, which was hit hard by flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew, asked members to help them move gym equipment and prepare for the storm.
David Hewitt, left, and Ed Piewonsky, right, members at 12th State Crossfit in Raleigh, help sandbag the building in preparation for Hurricane Florence on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. The gym, which was hit hard by flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew, asked members to help them move gym equipment and prepare for the storm. jleonard@newsobserver.com

Even if you hadn’t watched the news, followed social media or seen a weather forecast, you’d know the Triangle is in for a big rain storm this week because all the cars have disappeared from the dealerships along Wake Forest Road.

Every time a storm threatens to cause Crabtree Creek to leave its banks, the businesses along Wake Forest Road begin preparing for high water. It used to happen about once a decade, but Hurricane Florence threatens to be the third storm to flood this stretch of road in less than two years, after Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 and a series of thunderstorms in April 2017.

Those storms and lesser flash floods in recent years mean that residents and businesses across the region know to expect flood damage from Hurricane Florence. On Wednesday, Raleigh officials asked 26,500 residents who live in flood-prone parts of the city to move to higher ground.

The businesses along Wake Forest Road don’t need much prodding. Wednesday morning, employees of the Southern States dealership drove a steady stream of Hyundais, Mazdas and Subarus across Wake Forest Road to higher ground a couple blocks away. That was followed by an exodus of Cadillacs and Buicks from the Thompson dealership across the street.

Drone pilot Mark Turner captured video of widespread flooding along Crabtree Creek in the area of Wake Forest and Six Forks Roads in Raleigh in April 2017.

And at Capital Cash, a pawn shop down the street, the guitars, electronics and other merchandise that normally covers the floor and fills the shelves had nearly all been moved to higher racks in the back.

“It looks like we’re going out of business,” said owner David Wilson. “But I’m not taking any chances.”

Wilson has been here 12 years, and says the worst flooding was after Hurricane Matthew, when 30 inches of water got inside the store. That required major repairs. After the April 2017 storm, the water came and went fast, and he was able to get dried out and clean the carpet pretty quickly.

“If it stays at six inches, then it will be the normal misery,” he said.

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Dan Shank, center, and employees at Southern States Hyundai of Raleigh fill up quick dams to secure the doors of the dealership building in advance of Hurricane Florence on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

The Sherwin Williams paint store next door was built just three years ago on higher ground and with steel frames around the doors where heavy sheets of aluminum slide in to keep out water. A contractor was scheduled to put them in place for the first time at the end of business Wednesday, said manager Aaron Bammert.

Others along the street know the water is going to come in. Steve Brown, owner of Brown’s Clock Shop, has been here 27 years and has four marks on an inside door that show how high the water got in previous storms (Hurricane Fran in 1996 was the highest).

“The water isn’t the worst part,” he said. “The worst thing is the mud — the muddy silt that covers everything.”

Brown has moved most of his inventory to his garage at home. Next door, Alex Snotherly of the Snotherly Insurance Agency had new office furniture piled up and perched on cinder blocks. Snotherly renovated the office with water in mind: He replaced the carpet with polished concrete; rebuilt the lower third of the walls using PVC and corrugated metal and raised all the electrical outlets three feet.

“I designed all of this for the floods,” he said.

Up and down Wake Forest Road and on nearby streets Wednesday, people were moving equipment, inventory, furniture and other things up or out of harm’s way. At 12th State Crossfit on Hodges Street, where Hurricane Matthew sent up to 10 inches of water into the building two years ago, about 30 customers showed up Wednesday morning to help co-owners Cliff Kohut and Dale Quirke load exercise equipment into a truck and surround the building with about 300 sandbags.

It all took about 3 hours, Quirke said.

“It would have taken Cliff and I a couple of days,” he said. “With 30 people helping, we knocked it out pretty quickly.”

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling
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