Rainfall in the southeastern portion of Lee County caused flooding, road closures and some collapsed bridges in the early morning hours on Wednesday.
“The heaviest rain fell around Smiths Station,” Gary Goggins, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham, told the Opelika-Auburn News on Wednesday morning. “Over the last 24 hours, they’ve had between four and six inches down in that area. In the last three days, it looks like they had, just estimating, maybe up to eight inches.”
Rainfall totals for the weather event were estimates, due to there being no observation sites near where the heaviest precipitation was.
Community workers cleared debris from roadways throughout Smiths Station on Wednesday after severe flood weather washed through the area, damaging bridges, confining residents and closing multiple roads.
“We had a little over 6½ inches of rain, some locations over seven,” Smiths Station Mayor F. L. “Bubba” Copeland said Wednesday morning. “We have mass erosion throughout all of the city. Several roads are out, several bridges were blasted out. Off of [Lee Road] 319, we have people that are isolated. There’s only one bridge in and one bridge out, and the bridge is out. So we have a lot of serious situations that we’re dealing with.”
'Up to their door handles'
Chris Shiver, a resident of Lee Road 318, lives in between two bridges – one of which endured serious destruction while the other, located about a quarter of a mile north, was demolished. Water flooded “a good 150 yards” of the roadway, he said.
“There’s about six families who live between these two bridges here,” Shiver added as he watched officials with the Lee County Highway Department clear debris from one of the bridges. “We had cars that had water up to their door handles. We were able to pull them out with a tractor.”
Jason Edwards, a worker with the highway department, helped remove debris from the bridge near Shiver’s home so that it could undergo inspection.
“Until then, it’ll remain closed,” Edwards said.
A section of Lee Road 246 was also among the closed areas. It was there that Mill Creek had flooded over the roadway, washing out the bank and damaging a main water pipe that ran along the roadway, according to Ronnie Rehburg, superintendent with the city’s Water and Sewer Authority.
“When the road washed out down there, the main pipe was washed out and there was nothing to support the main,” Rehburg said as workers provided temporary repairs to the pipe. He added, “Whenever the county comes in here and does their work, then we’ll replace the damaged pipe.”
'A lot of unknowns'
The NWS issued a flash flood warning shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday.
“We started getting reports of flooding coming in, with multiple roads closed and a few houses being flooded down in the Smiths Station area, about 1:16 this morning,” Goggins said.
Within the hour, Lee County Schools superintendent Mac McCoy was discussing dangerous road conditions with Emergency Management Agency director Kathrine Carson.
“At 4:00, I called our transportation director and said, ‘Alright, here’s the information we’re receiving. Here’s what we’ve got. We’ve got roads out. We’ve got bridges out. And we’ve got a lot of unknowns. In about an hour and a half to two hours, we’re going to start putting the heaviest payload to come across those bridges on a daily basis: the buses with kids,’” McCoy said.
School system administrators then made the decision to delay the start of the school day by three-and-a-half hours. This is the final week of the 2017-2018 academic year for Lee County Schools.
There was some water in Smiths Station Junior High, as well as Beauregard High School, but “nothing of any major alarm; nothing that drew major attention at either school,” according to the superintendent.
“Fortunately, it wasn’t quite as bad as some had thought,” McCoy said. “But we do have about 11 students in one area, that they can’t get out and we can’t get in. So they’re kind of isolated, until they can get that road fixed.”
'It washed away'
That road is Lee Road 687, where a privately-owned bridge on the dead-end road collapsed Wednesday morning.
“It washed away, and a truck was driving on it and fell into the creek,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said. “The driver was ok and just got out.”
The pickup truck was nose-down in the creek, and the bridge was impassable, leaving the residents on the other side of it unable to leave their neighborhood until the bridge is repaired.
“As far as we know, we don’t have any reports of injuries or issues related to the rainfall that we’ve had,” Jones added.
Lee County was under a flood warning until noon, and some road conditions improved throughout the day, as floodwaters receded.
Lee Roads 238, 246 and 249 all were barricaded Wednesday. In addition to the collapse on Lee Road 687, the waters also contributed to a bridge being out on Lee Road 318 at Turkey Creek, one mile north of Lee Road 319, according to the EMA.
Showers and thunderstorms are in the forecast for the area until at least Tuesday, due to a storm system that could form a tropical or subtropical depression over the Gulf of Mexico this weekend, according to the National Hurricane Center.