Sunday 9 August, 2020

Alberto begins to dissipate, leaving deaths, flooding behind

Remnants of the first named storm of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season are pushing into Canada, but Alberto's heavy rains have drenched the Southern Appalachians, claiming lives in raging flash floods, triggering mudslides and washing away bridges.

Since its Memorial Day landfall in the Florida Panhandle, Alberto's heavy rains have been widespread, with flooding reported from Alabama through Tennessee, Kentucky, the Carolinas, West Virginia and Illinois.

In Virginia, flash flooding blamed on Alberto turned a peaceful creek into a roaring death trap as witnesses reported a man and woman were swept away when their car was washed off a road Wednesday night. Police say searchers found one of the victims Thursday and would resume searching Friday for the other still missing.

"The streams are overflowing right now. Everything's at full capacity, if not more," said Albemarle County Fire Rescue Chief Dan Eggleston, speaking at a news conference Thursday. He said he feared any additional rain would just make creeks and streams swell again.

Rescue crews are to continue searching Friday in and around Ivy Creek in Virginia's Albemarle County, where a day earlier they found the body of one of two occupants of a Toyota Prius engulfed by the floodwaters. Farther north in Virginia's Madison County, sheriff's officials said rescuers are seeking a female reported missing in high waters there.

"Ivy Creek is normally a very docile creek," Eggleston said. But he added it only took a downpour of 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 centimeters) of rain before Ivy Creek "turned into a swollen, raging river."

Emergency responders also carried out at least 10 other water rescues and received reports of damage to homes, the extent of which wasn't immediately clear, Eggleston said.

Throughout the stricken region, authorities posted photos of washed-out roads and bridges, and they warned people to avoid unnecessary travel. One photo posted by the city of Charlottesville showed a playground partially submerged by floodwaters.

The Carolinas also were dealing with problems of their own from Alberto, which took enormous amounts of moisture aloft from the Gulf of Mexico and dumped it on the region from rain bands stretching for hundreds of miles (kilometers).

In the North Carolina mountain town of Boone, one of those mudslides was blamed for a gas leak and explosion that destroyed a home Wednesday afternoon, killing two people.

Four North Carolina dams being closely watched by a state team of special engineers were holding up, Gov. Roy Cooper said at midweek. But Cooper went ahead and declared a state of emergency for his hard-hit mountain counties, saying the forecast for the rest of the week calls for isolated heavy rain storms that could instantly cause flooding in areas that have had 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain in the past 15 days.

"This storm isn't yet over. I'm urging people to keep a close eye on forecasts," Cooper said.

Two deaths had previously been reported in the U.S. during the storm's passage. A television news anchor and a photojournalist were killed Monday in North Carolina while covering the weather, when a tree became uprooted from rain-soaked ground and toppled onto their SUV, authorities said. WYFF-TV of Greenville, South Carolina, said news anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer died.

Authorities in Cuba say Alberto left four people dead there as the storm drenched the island in heavy rain. 

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