Dam release and downpours swamp Cocke County

6:18 PM, Jan 15, 2013   |    comments
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Heavy rains are forcing some energy companies to release water from dams.  That includes Progress Energy, which operates Walters Dam in North Carolina on the Pigeon River upstream from Newport.

The wave of upstream water combined with steady showers overhead swamped Cocke County on Tuesday.

"If they have to release some water [from Walters Dam] it causes some problems, especially the lower areas in Newport," said Patrick Sheldon, Cocke County Emergency Management Director.  "The River Street area got a lot of flooding and some places in the city.  We've had some businesses and companies along the river that had some flooding."

Sheldon checked gauges along the Pigeon River and said the water has remained below truly troublesome levels.

"It has been around 12 feet, but anything over 14 is more of a concern for us," said Sheldon.  "If it rises so many feet, it [the gauge] sends an alarm to the National Weather Service.  Mostly, the debris is our biggest problem right now.  We're having to do debris removal at some bridges where limbs have built up and you have water backing up."

The swollen creeks transformed driveways into duck ponds and the Cocke County Fairgrounds into an overflowing lake.  The spectacle attracted students released early at 1:00 p.m. Tuesday from Cocke County Schools.  Cocke County has closed schools entirely on Wednesday.

The biggest concern for Cocke County continues to be the rain that falls in the North Carolina mountains.  The hillsides funnel rushing waters into the Pigeon River and eventually downstream into Newport.

"When Walters Dam releases water, they give us a heads up.  They'll call so we can know to expect the river to rise in case we have people out doing rescue operations or working along the river," said Sheldon.

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