09/03/06 — Charlotte water rescue team helps with evacuations

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Charlotte water rescue team helps with evacuations

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on September 3, 2006 2:01 AM

CHINQUAPIN -- David Poole knew there was a storm coming before he fell asleep Thursday night. By Friday morning, his bed was the only place he could escape the rising floodwaters.

As Tropical Storm Ernesto stormed through eastern North Carolina, almost a foot of rain fell in parts of Duplin County. It only took a few hours before the Northeast Cape Fear River swelled, pouring water onto N.C. 41 and N.C. 111.

By that time, floodwaters had already turned Poole's driveway into a lake, and water began to accumulate on his front porch, seeping into his home.

Only a few miles away at the Northeast Volunteer Fire Department station, North East volunteers were taking a much-needed rest. By noon Friday, the volunteers had evacuated more than 70 people from their flooded homes. With them were a National Guard unit based in Williamston and the Charlotte Fire Department's Swiftwater Rescue Team.

State officials had summoned both units to Kinston, predicting Ernesto would cause the most flood damage in Lenoir County, Charlotte incident commander Battalion Chief Kent Davis said. When all was calm Friday morning, both units rushed to Duplin County.

Earlier in the week, the rescue team had been preparing for Ernesto at the Upper Catawba River in the western part of the state, Charlotte Capt. Rob Brisley said.

The Swiftwater Rescue Team was formed after a large flood killed residents in 1996, Davis said. With the latest equipment and training, the team sends a 14-person task force when called upon. That task force is split into two strike teams that can conduct large evacuations in floodwaters or swiftwaters.

On Friday, one of those strike teams would come to the rescue of Poole. Poole, 72, is partially deaf and couldn't make a phone call to emergency services. Once his sister realized she hadn't heard from him since the storm hit, she notified Duplin County officials, who briefed North East firefighters, the National Guard and the rescue team.

Using a Humvee and a five-ton military truck equipped with a snorkel kit that allows it to submerge about 7 feet into the water without stalling the engine, the rescue team, firefighters and soldiers traveled six miles north on N.C. 111 through the impassable road to the intersection of N.C. 111 and Old Chinquapin Road.

Rescuers could hardly distinguish where the road was at the intersection, which looked like two rivers converging, but it was apparent to the rescue team that they needed a motorized raft to reach Poole's house, which was about a half-mile from the intersection, Charlotte Capt. Kenny Curran said.

Poole couldn't open the front door without letting water rush into his home. About two inches of water had already accumulated on his deck and about an inch of water was already on the floor throughout most of his house, Curran said.

After about 30 minutes, the rescue team prepared the motorized raft to retrieve Poole from his flooding home. In that short amount of time, rescuers said it was apparent that more water had spilled over from the North East Cape Fear River.

The floodwaters spilled from the river into low-lying areas near Poole's house and looped around to feed back into the river, Curran said. In 30 minutes, the floodwaters had already built another few inches.

"The water was rising so fast," Poole said.

Once the rescue team's motorized raft reached Poole's house, Curran said they weren't sure if they were going to find anyone in the house. The team had already been sent on another mission that morning only to enter an empty home.

"His house has one of those turn-of-the-century wrap-around porches. There was already about 2 inches of water above that and the water was coming in through the doorway," Curran said. "The old house was falling in. Some of the floorboards were falling apart and one of our guys fell through one of them up to his knee."

The only room without water was the bedroom, where Poole had waited for hours waiting to escape his house. Within minutes, he was out of his house, sitting quietly in the back of the National Guard's five-ton truck.

Then, after being surrounded by floodwaters for hours, Poole was once again on dry land hugging his son, Lamont, who had been waiting for him patiently.

Instead of talking, Poole simply smiled at his son and looked back at the floodwaters.