Richmond County first responders kept busy in afternoon storms

By: By Christine S. Carroll -
Photo courtesy of Darin Dixon A large tree blocks Airport Road during a string of thunderstorms Sunday afternoon.

Torrential rains tipped trees onto power lines, set off at least one fire and toppled kayakers late Sunday, keeping fire and rescue teams hopping. One rescue team vehicle also hydroplaned into a porch during an emergency call.

“It was probably one of the worst storms I’ve seen in a long time,” Rockingham Fire Chief Harold Isler said Monday afternoon.

As a result of the storm, Isler’s department nipped in the bud a fire sparked by a shorted wire under a house, rescued a family trapped in their house by a fallen tree, attended to a wreck at US 220 and US 74, and answered several calls about downed power lines.

It also rescued five kayakers from Hitchcock Creek — one of whom had the good sense to wrap his cell phone in a plastic bag and the luck to hold on to it long enough to call 911.

Another group of four kayakers also swamped by high waters managed to get themselves to safety. But the group of five could not.

“We had to get the fire department kayaks in the water to go get ‘em,” Isler said. One woman washed out of a kayak was hanging on to a tree when rescuers arrived. All but one member of the group lost their cell phones and a number of personal items, including wallets.

The group had set out from the Roberdel access point at 1 p.m., thinking the day would be pleasant — they had seen no storms forecast. At about 5:30 or so, “it kind of popped up,” Isler said of the storm or succession of storms.

The kayakers managed to pass under the bridge at Steele Street minutes before swelling waters would have cut off their passage, Isler said.

“If we get a lot of rain … that water’s going to be fairly swift,” he said. “It does rise up pretty fast. There’s only a certain number of access points that you can get out.”

The five didn’t make it to one. Instead, the fire department plucked them out.

In the meantime in East Rockingham, the fire department there encountered a tree that had fallen onto an abandoned house on Airport Road. A companion tree on the same lot had fallen the other direction, across the road and onto power lines, shutting down the radio station G104, said Lt. Rex Boone of the East Rockingham Fire Department.

“A big old oak tree fell across the road and took all the power lines,” Boone said. “One went through the side of the house and went through the roof on it.” The other fell toward the station.

Airport Road remained blocked on Monday because lines were “hanging real low,” he said.

On Chalk Road on Sunday, Boone said, a wash of water also sent a train engine sliding off a spur track at Total Lubricants.

Calls to the radio station and Total Lubricants went unanswered Monday.

Sluicing water also put a hitch into a call for the Rockingham Rescue Squad.

Volunteer Chief Scott Waters — also Hamlet police chief — said an emergency-response vehicle hydroplaned into a porch on Mill Road on Sunday.

Both the Crown Victoria and the porch sustained minor damage, Waters said, and no one was injured. Another vehicle and officer answered the emergency call instead.

The N.C. Highway Patrol will investigate the incident, he said.

Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.

Photo courtesy of Darin Dixon A large tree blocks Airport Road during a string of thunderstorms Sunday afternoon. courtesy of Darin Dixon A large tree blocks Airport Road during a string of thunderstorms Sunday afternoon.
Kayakers rescued, tree blocks Airport Road

By Christine S. Carroll