Flood of 1998 anniversary brought out the best in us

Published 9:08 am Wednesday, January 10, 2018

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Roan Mountain flood. On Jan. 7, 1998, eight inches of rain fell in Carter County, flooding the Doe River. In all, seven people died, one being an emergency rescue member from Kingsport, whose boat capsized during a rescue attempt. Among the victims were Bob Davis, Virginia Davis, Tammie L. Garland,  Junior Godsey, Bernice Isaacs, Rex Isaacs, and Jamie Lee White.

Four of the deaths occurred because they attempted to drive through high water and were swept away. A reminder to never drive into moving water, especially after a storm.

More than a foot of melted snow atop Roan Mountain coupled with steady rain caused the Doe River to crest almost 12 feet above normal. As a result, the flood waters rushed through the communities of Roan Mountain, Hampton, and Valley Forge swallowing everything in their path.

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Other contributing factors to this disaster were probably the very steep terrain and darkness of night. These likely conspired to the rapid rise of the Doe River and to slow response time of residents to evacuation orders.

Over 200 mobile homes and 15 houses were demolished in the flood. A total of 193 other houses or structures and six businesses were damaged. A preliminary estimate of loss was put at $20 million.

According to the National Weather Service, the 1998 flood was the flood of record for the Doe River, exceeding that of 1901. The river arose above flood stage in Elizabethton.

The 1998 flood changed the landscape forever, but not the memories. Many still remember homes that were washed away in the flood. Others remember the devastation and loss of life caused by the flood.

It was a flood that caught almost everyone off guard.

To prevent another deadly disaster, the county bought the land along the river, hoping to save both property and people in the future. One of those pieces of land was developed into the Roan Mountain Community Park.

On the heels of the deadly flood was a snow storm on Jan. 23 that dumped more than a foot of snow on much of the region, resulting in widespread power outages and bringing agony to pain.

While many remember the devastation and death of the night of Jan. 8, 1998, others remember a community coming together to help those who had lost their homes and belongings. They brought food, clothing, cleaning supplies, building supplies and opened their pocketbooks to share what they had with those in need. There’s no denying the generosity, the unity, the vigor that rebuilding inspires. Tragedy often brings out the best demonstrations of the human spirit.

Twenty years later, one night of terror many wish they could forget is remembered for the lives saved as well as those seven who lost their lives. It is also remembered as a time when men risked their lives to save others, and when a community came together to help those who had suffered at the hands of Mother Nature.