By Alison James
FCT Managing Editor
A few puddles are all that remain to tell the story of the flash flooding in Russellville last Wednesday.
Puddles, and untold damage to personal and public property.
“Everything in our basement got ruined,” recounted Mallory Gann, 24.
Her father and stepmother’s house was just one of many that couldn’t stand up to the torrential downpour that rolled through the city. Her sisters were home when the rain began and the waters began to rise.
“The doors were closed, and it just started flushing in – just a river of water,” said Olivia Gann, 10, surveying the trucks piled with damaged belongings in her front yard. “We had all kinds of Christmas stuff and stuff like that – all the Christmas trees, everything was floating everywhere. We called the police, and my dad said, ‘I know y’all are probably getting all kinds of calls around Franklin County and Russellville.’ And they said, ‘Yes.’”
Fire Chief Joe Mansell estimated his department responded to more than a dozen calls for rescue as flooded streets, homes and business marked the evening. About 4 inches or more of rain is estimated to have fallen in a short period of time, washing across city streets and stranding some who were caught out in it.
City workers and councilmembers were out Saturday cleaning up Hal Kirby Park, which was damaged beyond use.
“The most extensive damage was along the bigger creeks, obviously, because they’re in the flood plain,” said county engineer David Palmer at an emergency meeting in Russellville Thursday. “All these structures and facilities are in the flood plains of those creeks … Everything along Payne Creek is just decimated … I know we’ve got a lot of damage, but I don’t know how much.”
City and county officials said rainfall and damage occurred primarily within city limits. Extensive damage could by seen in the area around KFC and Dollar General – which was closed most of this week for remodeling following the flood damage – on Highway 43, as well as in the downtown area.
National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Kula said a flash flood warning was issued at 6:17 p.m. that evening. “Doppler radar indicated very heavy rain and flash flooding potential,” Kula said. “It rained very hard in a very short period of time.”
The possibility for such an event is not uncommon this time of year, he added.
“Flash flooding can occur this time of year – going into summertime months, we’ll see some gully washer thunderstorms that will develop,” Kula said.
During damage assessment Thursday in Russellville, officials expressed concern over what might happen if Russellville was hit by further rain in the coming days. A similar system seemed to be moving in, as tracked by radar.
“If we get another hour of rain, we’re going to be in the same predicament,” Franklin County EMA directory Jody Hitt pointed out.
With this threat in mind, the city declared a state of emergency in a meeting the afternoon of May 28. But aside from a few isolated showers, Russellville has escaped additional rainfall since May 27.
The Ganns, like many families, are still on damage control this week, documenting the damage, drying out their basement and trying to work with their flood insurance agent.
“It took seven hours, four water pumps, to get all the water out,” said Olivia.
“We’ve tried to save some of the stuff under the carport, like pictures and clothes and memories,” said Mallory, “but a lot of the stuff is just ruined.”