Workers dispose of a tree that fell on the Carr family’s home in the Pitchkettle area during Thursday night’s severe thunderstorm. Other areas of the city saw power outages and flooding.
Workers dispose of a tree that fell on the Carr family’s home in the Pitchkettle area during Thursday night’s severe thunderstorm. Other areas of the city saw power outages and flooding.

Storm stories

Published 10:04pm Friday, July 25, 2014

By Henry Luzzatto, Matthew Ward and Tracy Agnew

When thunderstorms rocked Suffolk on Thursday evening, Ivan Carr almost found himself in precisely the wrong place at the exact wrong time.

A tree came down on his family’s Pitchkettle Road home at 7:28 p.m., in the midst of a major storm that was pounding the city.

“I know (it was then), because I called the fire department at 7:30,” Carr said.

“It was a boom, like lightning hit a transformer. I was in the living room trying to make a phone call three minutes before it happened. I couldn’t get reception from California, so I went downstairs.”

Kerry Holmes shows where water reached more than two feet high inside his garage in Clay Street, which flooded on Thursday.
Kerry Holmes shows where water reached more than two feet high inside his garage in Clay Street, which flooded on Thursday.

Moments later, a tree had crashed through the roof in the room where Carr had been.

Severe weather created problems across Suffolk, according to city officials. Suffolk police rescued a mother, father and two children from a submerged vehicle at Spruce and Mill streets.

At Second Avenue and West Constance Road, three people were rescued after four vehicles went under, and the occupants of one vehicle in the 200 block of Locust Street made their own escape.

For the 24 hours ending at 7 a.m. Friday, observers for the National Weather Service reported widely varied rainfall throughout the city, from 1.1 inches in downtown to 3.6 inches at Saunders, near the Dismal Swamp.

Less than an inch came during the first storm Thursday morning, while more than two inches fell during the evening storm, according to observations at Suffolk Executive Airport.

Airport manager Kent Marshall said that according to reports, the airport got markedly less rain than as little as three miles north.

When water first started rushing down Clay Street — which experienced severe flooding, submerging five vehicles, according to the city — Pedro Duero wasn’t too concerned.

“I didn’t think much of it at first, though a couple of hours later I went out and the water was up to the steps,” said Duero, who rents the house with wife Karla Duero.

He saw one of their two cars was half-submerged. The water “just kept rushing,” he said.

Soon, water started entering the house, quickly rising six inches up the walls, pouring into air-conditioning ducts and lifting vinyl flooring.

The water drained when Duero opened the doors, and it also escaped between the floorboards.

Duero had cut power to the house at the breaker, and he and his wife managed to elevate most of their more valuable possessions. But they were left Friday with a big cleanup.

“I don’t know if the smell’s going to go away,” Pedro Duero said. “I wasn’t expecting anything like that. I was shocked that the water was coming in like it was; it’s a high house.”

One of the cars was totaled, and Duero was waiting to find out about the second one. The cars were insured, and he said he would be checking to see if his landlord has any insurance that can help with the cleanup.

Next door, Allen Umphlett and his mother Cynthia Umphlett reported four inches of water flowed into their home. Their insured 2013 Hyundai Elantra was probably a write-off. The homeowners didn’t have flood insurance.

Allen Umphlett said the streetlights went out before water started entering the house. “We couldn’t really see what was going on,” he said.

“I called the city of Suffolk water department, and they told me they had other calls and to wait 15 minutes. So I called 911.”

Rumors circulated around Clay Street on Friday that a malfunctioning city pump station worsened the flooding. City spokeswoman Diana Klink stated that pump stations are not for stormwater, “though rain events of this nature do have an impact to their operations.”

“At no time will the sanitary sewer pump stations relieve storm water flooding,” she wrote in an email.

Kerry Holmes was another Clay Street resident mopping up.

With his wife and daughter away on a vacation to Walt Disney World, Holmes was trying to salvage waterlogged items from his garage, where the water rose more than two feet up the wall, while it reached baseboard-level in the house.

One of his cars was totaled, he said.

Both Umphlett and Holmes cited previous flooding on the street.

“If it’s something that’s going to happen over and over again, it’s something we need to figure out,” he said. “The people can’t live this way.”

Flooding also threatened businesses on West Washington Street.

“We actually have a little slope that comes into our door, and that’s pretty much what saved us,” said Jose Moncada, owner of East Coast Taco.

C3 Vino took some water in, and a post on its Facebook page said it would be closed Friday to clean up. Cars parked on the street were swamped to bumper level, Moncada said.

LaTroy Brinkley, owner of Serendipity Salon on West Washington, said that while his business was spared, his Walnut Hill Estates home had two inches of water, ruining carpet and furniture.

“It’s just a headache, a complete headache,” Brinkley said.

Meanwhile, a tree service has removed the tree from Ivan Carr’s house, and his family spent Thursday night in Virginia Beach.

On Friday, Carr anticipated they might have been able to return as soon as that night. “It depends on how quick everything can happen,” he said.

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