A rare alignment of weather systems conspired to drop up to 10 inches of rain across the Sandhills region overnight, causing flash flooding, prompting rescues from homes and vehicles, and forcing schools to close.
Emergency officials reported no deaths or injuries, but they said at one point five boat teams were working in Cumberland County to rescue stranded people.
Some of the worst flooding was in Spring Lake, in Cumberland County, where the Lower Little River was at 30 feet, 12 feet above flood stage, and officials were monitoring a dam that had stood since it was built on Jumping Run Creek by the Rockefeller family in the 1930s. A section of the dam, which holds back the 100-acre Long Valley Farm millpond inside Carvers Creek State Park, was partially breached by Wednesday night’s heavy rains, and engineers were concerned about the rest of the structure giving way and flooding a neighborhood downstream.
“My neighbor has lived in his house 30 years and said he’s never seen it this bad,” said Richard Moore, who lives on Collingwood Drive in Spring Lake, in the neighborhood where police and fire officials were making frequent passes to urge residents to evacuate.
Moore has lived in the house three years, he said, and until now Jumping Run Creek that runs behind the home has been a peaceful little stream. Early Thursday, it rose several feet in a few hours and Thursday afternoon was a muddy river sweeping through the trees.
Moore had sent his wife and infant daughter to stay with friends on higher ground while he stayed behind.
“I’m just here to keep the power on as long as possible, so we don’t lose all our food,” said Moore, a soldier who said his whole unit at Fort Bragg had been told to stay home Thursday because of the weather. “But if the dam breaks, and it comes up to the house, I’ll flip the breaker and get out.”
Kathleen Carroll, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh, said a strong upper-level low-pressure system sitting over Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee had combined with a strong southerly air flow bringing moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. The result was a series of storms that hit the same four counties over and over.
“Like a train on the tracks, they just keep going over the same area,” Carroll said. “Just these heavy rain showers, one after the other.”
Dozens of roads flooded and some had sections wash out.
Additional rain that had been forecast Thursday did not materialize, and waters were receding in the late afternoon.
But Cumberland County schools will remain closed Friday, and all Friday night school events are canceled.
Phillip B. Harris Jr., executive director of the American Red Cross of the Sandhills, said that by late afternoon Thursday about 35 people had come to stay in two shelters, one at Smith Recreation Center in Fayetteville and one at Spring Lake Recreation Center. The shelters could handle several hundred people, he said.
Harris said county and city officials had gone into flooded neighborhoods to tell residents the shelters were available, and made announcements on web sites and social media.
A flash flood warning remained in effect through Thursday night. With no additional rainfall, weather officials said the Lower Little River should be below flood stage by Sunday evening.