Motorist rescued after attempting to cross flooded Big Elm Road

Jeff Bobo • Feb 12, 2018 at 9:30 PM


ROGERSVILLE — Rescuers responded to a stranded motorist Monday morning who attempted to drive through a flooded section of Big Elm Road and found himself stuck in four feet of water.

At one point Sunday, Hawkins County EMA director Gary Murrell had 27 reports of roads flooded in Hawkins County.

As of Monday afternoon, the only major road that was still flooded was Big Elm, which follows the Hawkins County side of the North Fork of the Holston River north of Kingsport.

Shortly after 6 a.m., multiple agencies responded to a flooded section of Big Elm Road, where a vehicle and one male occupant were stuck.

"He called 911 and said he was in four feet of water floating," Murrell said. "We sent everything we had up there to him and got him out. He was very lucky that his vehicle didn't get caught in the current and carry him to an area where it could have become submerged and possibly cost him his life."

Murrell said the incident shines a light on a bigger problem, which is keeping motorists from trying to cross flooded roads — especially Big Elm Road, which floods regularly, and where those type of rescues occur all too often.

The catch phrase used by the National Weather Service is, "Turn around, don't drown."

"If you get caught in the current on Big Elm Road, you're going to be in the river, and you're going to be gone," Murrell said. "There's no sense in that. But, when we try to stop them, they steal our cones, they steal our barricades and throw them in the river. The sheriff's office is working with us, because we're going to have to do something to solve this problem."

Among the agencies that responded to the Big Elm rescue were the Church Hill Rescue Squad, Carters Valley VFD, Hawkins County EMS, HCSO, and the Kingsport Swift Water Team, which was on standby. The motorist was cold and wet and got warmed up in an ambulance, but he wasn't hospitalized.

That was the only big rescue situation in Hawkins County in this latest round of flooding, but the effects of flooding were felt from one end of Hawkins County to the other.

Director of Schools Steve Starnes closed the county school system Monday because so many roads were flooded or blocked with debris.

The county highway department spent Monday clearing debris and unclogging tiles, and as of Monday afternoon Starnes had announced school would be on its regular schedule Tuesday.

Laurel Run Park was closed Sunday and Monday due to flooding and unsafe conditions caused by mud and debris washing off the mountainside. Much of the park was under water Monday. 

"This is probably the biggest widespread local flooding — as quick as we got it — that we've had in a long, long time," Murrell said. "The ground was saturated, and the water had nowhere to go. We had some people who drove into the water and we had to get them out. I know the county (Highway Department) was out today trying to put roads back together where it washed out some of the edges."

Murrell added "We had a lot of damage to the roads. We had some homes that got flooded in Mount Carmel in some of those low-lying areas. Holston Electric had a lot of issues with trees taking power lines and poles down. The ground was so soft trees just fell over and took everything in their path with it. We've not had any injuries."