Butler County soaked

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Heavy rains deluge the Butler County area

Torrential downpours over the weekend caused more than just minor inconveniences for many of the citizens of Greenville and Butler County.

The rain started overfilling creek and culvert banks early Saturday morning, causing many streets to be flooded, and several yards were washed clean of turf.

Homes south of Commerce Street in Greenville had waterfalls cascading from the front lawns, sidewalks and steps, and areas such as Oglesby Street and Carver Circle had standing water two feet deep in areas.

Street Department workers were out most of the day Saturday, placing barricades and closing flooded areas for the safety of motoring citizens.

On Saturday night, a portion of West Commerce Street was barricaded by the Street Department near the intersection of Administrative Drive, until the water receded.

This resulted in the roadway being closed completely to traffic for approximately two hours.

Another problem that affected the Camellia City was loss of electrical power. Power surges occurred all over town, due to wires being cut by falling tree limbs.

Officials with Alabama Power Company stayed out most of the night, repairing damaged utility lines.

And then, after the rain ceased, at approximately 10 p.m., emergency personnel were dispatched on an urgent call.

According to dispatchers at E-911, there was a report of a vehicle submerged with occupants possibly entrapped, north of Sherling Lake on Ala. Hwy. 263.

Units from the Greenville Fire Department, Butler County Sheriff's Office, GEMS Ambulance, Department of Public Safety, Liberty Fire Department, and several private citizen volunteers responded.

"We first were told that the vehicle was under water, and there were three occupants in the vehicle," said Wayne Garlock, owner of GEMS Ambulance Service. "We sent a unit out to look for the location, and our second unit met with subjects at the Happy Store Exxon' that said they knew where the vehicle was."

"Once we met with the witnesses, we were able to make contact with the folks that were stuck via their cellular phone," said Chief Deputy Kenny Harden, of the Butler County Sheriff's Office. "The victim said his vehicle was stranded on the other side of the washed area of road, but they were not under water-they just could not drive out."

The people that were stranded had been doing some work at a hunting lodge, some eight miles west of Bragg's Highway on a dirt road.

"When the rains got really heavy, they were not able to get out," Harden said.

Greenville Fire Chief Mike Phillips contacted Milton Luckie, chief of the Liberty Fire Department.

"Liberty has a deuce-and-a-half military-style truck that is being converted into a fire truck," Phillips said.

Members of the Sheriff's Office also were in contact with the U.S. Coast Guard, and had been told that an emergency rescue team could be dispatched if lives were in jeopardy.

"We made the decision to hold off on calling them in, since we had contact with the victims, and they assured us that they were not in danger," said Sheriff Harris.

Jeff Conway, a volunteer from Greenville, attempted to get into where the victims were, on his four-wheel ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle).

"I made it back a good three or four miles, but then when I started to cross a washed area of the road, the water was moving so swiftly that my four-wheeler was pulled off the roadway by the currents," Conway said. "I held onto it, and tied it to a tree with my belt, before swimming back to safety."

But as quickly as the water came, it receded once the rain stopped.

"Mr. Conway said the water was going down very quickly, so I decided to see how close we could get to the victims by truck," said Harden, who responded on his four-wheel-drive pickup. "We also had Liberty respond with their deuce-and-a-half, in case we needed a contingency."

Harden was able to reach the victims, and approximately one hour after he and Conway left, they returned, with the three that were in the stranded vehicle.

"This could have been a lot worse," said Sheriff Harris. "The people were wise to stay on the other side of the water, and not risk crossing it."

Chief Phillips said people should always use extreme caution when faced with this type of situation.

"Even in town, water has been known to flood roads, and it is always best to turn around and seek another route, rather than risk getting stuck in the water," Phillips said. "It's severe weather such as this that cause lives to be lost from drowning."