Claiborne County residents continue to struggle with flooding

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CUMBERLAND GAP, Tenn. (WATE)- Heavy rain at the beginning of February caused about 33 roads in Claiborne County to flood.

According to Ronnie Pittman, the county road superintendent, many of those roads were in low-lying areas, near a waterway or both.

Residents on Gap Creek Road fell under the ‘both’ category.

In 2019, the Epperson and Nelson families were seen boating across what is normally a low-water crossing, but was covered with water.

Debbie Epperson said the water got dangerously high again last week, as it often does during a few inches of rainfall.

Epperson said she was staying with her daughter in Virginia because she had doctors appointments and couldn’t risk the probable chance of getting trapped at home.

Epperson’s husband stayed behind at their home so he could feed their animals, but he was also running out of his insulin.

Epperson said her granddaughter waded through a few inches of rushing water Monday morning so her husband could get his medicine.

She said her family has been struggling with the water-covered roadway for 40 years.

“We can’t live like this….As long as they do something so we can get in and out,” Epperson said.

Pittman said the highway department had been closely monitoring Gap Creek Road and trying to figure out what they could do with the little money they had.

The road crews just recently put out thousands of dollars worth of gravel and rock next to the low-water crossing, so when the water level goes down, crews can fill in any holes.

He said there are three other roads with similar issues: runoff from the mountain moves down through the creeks, moves into the Powell River, which then feeds into Norris Lake.

“All these areas are prone to flooding, so what they want to do is they want to be prepared. They know what happens. This has been about a 70-year problem, so they need to go ahead and be prepared,” Pittman said.

He said a Knox County engineering company, Robert Campbell and Associates, was studying Gap Creek Road to figure out what the best fix would be.

Pittman said the county’s budget wouldn’t be able to afford a permanent fix without other funding from grants.

Even then, because of the location, he was wary about what could actually be done.

Another problem bridge in the county was recently fixed with funding that was created in an infrastructure bill by former Governor Bill Haslam.

Pittman said that bridge, despite being brand new, was damaged after last week’s floods.

He said the top layer of concrete was torn right off by water and floated into someone’s yard.

“That project alone was about $680,000 and one flood made a mess out of it. So we’re back now, we got it recovered, but we’ll have to repave both ends of it,” Pittman said.

Pittman said they are also still waiting on funding help from FEMA and TEMA after the floods last year.

“The hope is that one day, maybe we’ll see a bridge or a road job (on Gap Creek Road) to help these people out,” Pittman said.

Pittman asked Claiborne County residents to be prepared for more flooding because of the forecasted rain.

He said residents can call the highway department at 423-626-3462 to report any flooded roads.

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