Flooding of Blackwater River possible; crest projected at 17.2 feet

Published 2:53 pm Friday, August 26, 2011

FRANKLIN—Moderate Blackwater River flooding will be possible in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

Officials on Friday changed earlier predictions of the Blackwater staying comfortably within its banks. Because of higher-than-expected rainfall — now projected at 8 inches, up from 2 inches to 6 inches a day earlier — the Blackwater is expected to crest at 17.2 feet at Burdette at 2 a.m. Tuesday. Flood stage is 12 feet.

The Blackwater has begun rising from its Friday level of 2.17 feet and will quickly reach a “moderate” flood stage, Franklin Fire Capt. Tim Dunn said.

The river will crest slightly higher than the 16.9 feet it reached during Hurricane Isabel in 2003 but is expected to remain well below the record 26-foot crest during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The latter floodwaters engulfed downtown Franklin.

Next week’s flooding should only have a minimal impact on downtown businesses and residents, Dunn said.

“The concern is if we get more rain than is forecasted,” he said.

While 16.7 feet would remain in the moderate flood stage, anything 20 feet or above would be “major.”

The Nottoway River is still not expected to reach its flood stage of 16 feet. The Nottoway is expected to rise to 14.7 feet at Sebrell, said Mike Johnson, administrator and emergency management director for Southampton County.

The storm will dump rain on Western Tidewater and bring tropical storm force winds to the area.

Maximum sustained winds are still expected to range from 40 mph to 50 mph, but hurricane-force gusts can also be expected.

Emergency shelters are open at Franklin High School, Southampton High School and Windsor High School.

Southampton County plans to close its garbage collection sites on Saturday and Sunday, but those that are normally open on Saturday will open Monday. Isle of Wight will also close its collection sites Saturday and Sunday, said county spokesman Don Robertson.