East Tennessee History: Flood of 1998 Part 1

Published 12:43 pm Thursday, January 14, 2021

 We all have events that are sealed in our minds. These are events that we can remember what we were doing, how we felt and where we were when they happened. The death of John Kennedy, the death of Elvis and the attack on 9-1-1 are just a few of these.
 These events, in some way or the other, change our lives forever, and every time you remember them, there is a sadness that comes over you. For me, the Carter County Flood of ’98 was one of these events.
 The events surrounding the flood really began during the days leading up to January 8, 1998. The last days of December 1997 and the first week of January 1998 had been a time filled with strange weather. Heavy snows came during the last week of 1997 and the first few days of 1998. They were so bad that it was estimated that 67 inches of snow had fallen on top of the Roan.
 Then, the worst possible thing happened in the valleys of the Roan, the weather warmed to record temperatures. The day leading up to the flood saw beautiful sunny weather and temperatures in the 70’s. Then on January 7, 1998, it started to rain.
 It wasn’t a small misty type rain. The rain that came down on the Roan and the valleys below was a deluge. A heavy warm rain filled the valleys on both sides of the mountain and could only have one result.
 By dark, the 67 inches of snow had started melting on the Roan, and it had started running off the top of the mountain into the Bakersville, North Carolina community and the Roan Mountain community.
 People who experienced it said they heard a sound like a train coming off the Roan around 7 pm. A wall of water came down every valley under the mountain, wiping out bridges, flooding houses and washing away mobile homes.
 Suddenly, people found themselves stranded in their own homes. They couldn’t drive into the water, and the water was rising higher by the minute.
 Every major and minor stream came out of their banks. Little streams that you could jump across the day before became torrents of water that threatened both humans and livestock.
 The Doe River jumped its banks as it came through Roan Mountain State Park, and flooded houses on both sides of the road. One family was only saved because they had a second level in their home. As the water grew higher and higher, they retreated to the top of their home and waited out the disaster.
 Bridges were destroyed, giant boulders were overturned and cars and storage buildings were swept away. Soon the water reached the more populated part of Roan Mountain Village and destroyed Cloudland Elementary School. The water came up on to the chalkboards of the school, and the only fortunate thing was that the school was not in session. If students had been at school when the wall of water had hit, many would have died from the flood.
 As the water washed down into the valley, Highway 19E was flooded, and the water crossed the highway to flood houses on both sides of road. The water changed the route of the river, and it ran down the middle of the road in the heart of the town finally coming back into its banks as it got near the center of town.
 Then, the water claimed its first causality. An elderly couple tried to leave their home and drive in the water. The flood washed their car away, killing both of them. Their bodies were found a few miles below town.
 What many did not know was this flood had only started to take lives and destroy property as it flooded down into Hampton and then Elizabethton.
 We will continue with the story of the Flood of ’98 in my next East Tennessee History column.

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