Snow Creek turns unruly after weekend storm
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
May 22, 2013 | 5028 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Rev. Freddy Rimpsey looks over damage caused to the stormwater channel beneath the bridge leading to his office at 17th Street and Christine Avenue. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
The Rev. Freddy Rimpsey looks over damage caused to the stormwater channel beneath the bridge leading to his office at 17th Street and Christine Avenue. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
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The waters of Snow Creek wreaked havoc during the weekend, flooding neighborhoods and sweeping away debris, channel walls and even a local teenager, who was rescued after emerging from a culvert under Quintard Avenue.

With rains soaking the Model City — up to six inches in the region from Friday night through Saturday — stormwater roared down the mountains, along roads, and into the city’s drainage system, which in some places couldn’t contain it.

The force of the storm waters even tore off the walls meant to contain them.

At a spot under the Rimpsey Agency Foundation building at the corner of Christine Avenue and 17th Street — the former Girl Scout office — where the creek narrows at a bend in the river before being directed back underground, the currents carried away slabs of the channel wall and left a segment ripped away from the ground.

“I feel blessed the building’s still here,” said the Rev. Freddy Rimpsey, who runs the organization that provides after-school programs for area children. He said the creek overran its walls, flooding his front yard and the roadway where the creek is diverted back underground at Christine Avenue.

Later in the day, a 15-year-old boy playing behind Wendy’s a few blocks downstream was swept undergound by the current through a 781-foot culvert before emerging behind Little Caesar's, where he clung to a piling until being rescued.

Attempts this week to contact the boy, whose first name is Samuel, were unsuccessful. But his experience isn’t the first in Anniston. Assistant Fire Chief David Randle said he’s seen several instances of people getting swept into currents during his nearly three decades in the department.

Angie Shockley was swept into a culvert at Golden Springs Community Center in 1989. Shockley said she was walking in the parking lot during a rainstorm and stepped into a very small ditch. The current swept her into the culvert and shot her out the other side, throwing her to a spot where she could grab on and pull herself out.

“It looks calm on the top, and it’s just craziness in the undercurrent,” she said. “It just sucks you under and it doesn’t let you go until it’s done with you.”

While it feels like an eternity under the water, she said, “It’s a quick thing; you’re under before you know it.”

Anniston Public Works Director Bob Dean said his department has seen stormwater move boulders. “If it can move things that weigh almost 1,000 pounds it can take a human being and pick them up and take them on a ride.”

Dean said half his department was out working during the weekend, trying to keep drains, pipes and ditches clean to prevent flooding, but there were still “too many locations to count.”

A routine maintenance program to survey the city’s drainage system and repair and clean problem areas has helped prevent flooding during regular rains, Dean said, but with the weekend’s volume of rain, he said, he had reports of places flooding that have no history of flood problems.

Three tributaries — western, eastern and southern branches that cross Anniston — make up Snow Creek, flowing through the city’s downtown and southward into Oxford in open channels or underground culverts before joining Choccolocco Creek.

The creek has a history of flooding. Accounts of damage in the 1970s cite more than 650 homes flooded at the ground floor.

In the 1990s, the front porch of a Christine Avenue home fell into the creek after erosion weakened the channel supports. A vacant lot is all that remains.

The city also bought out more than 40 flood-prone homes on the western branch of the creek as part of a 1990s FEMA flood remediation program. The western branch of the creek has also been contaminated with PCBs, some of which still remain.

Dean said there are a number of big-money flood-control projects for the city to consider down the road, beginning with a half-mile culvert near Weaver Road. The project to repair the stretch would cost about $750,000, he said. With other culverts in “pretty bad shape,” he said, the city needs to conduct a comprehensive review and study of the system to prioritize improvements.

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
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