The midweek period of intensely heavy rainfall across north Alabama has county road department workers scrambling to restore a number of washed-out bridges and roads in Cullman County’s northeast corner.
The two-day period from Wednesday to Friday saturated all of Cullman County with rainfall, but pummeled the northeast area around Joppa, New Canaan, and Arab with more than 10 inches of rain in less than a 48-hour period, according to Cullman EMA director Phyllis Little.
As of Friday, portions of four Cullman County roads remained closed as road crews worked to assess and repair the damage. Cullman County Schools delayed opening times Thursday morning to accommodate potential delays and road dangers from the heavy rain, though the road and bridge closures have since only affected school bus schedules for residents in their immediate vicinities.
Of the four county roads that are closed, three of them — County Roads 1834, 1823, and 1815 — have bridges that have been partially washed away or destroyed. The fourth, County Road 1763, sustained damage to the road surface.
“There are probably even more smaller roads that the road crews haven’t gotten to yet,” added Little. “They already had repaired and re-opened several roads on Thursday, and there could be additional side roads with problems that they simply haven’t had a chance to assess yet.”
Though the flooding was severe in the affected areas of Cullman County, Little said that no associated fatalities, nor extensive damage to residences and businesses, had been reported. “I’m sure that some people did have water in their basements, but all the reports of damage that we received have been related to road infrastructure,” she said. “With road and bridge damage like this, you also expect to get reports of damaged water lines, but we also haven’t received any reports of that.”
Neighboring Marshall County, as well as Jefferson County, both reported fatalities associated with this week’s flooding. Some Cullman County residents living near the Marshall and Morgan County lines are customers of Arab Water Works, a public utility whose water main lines sustained severe damage from the floods, with several lines ruptured or completely washed away.
On Thursday, Arab Water Works issued a boil water advisory for customers; one that remained in effect on Friday as the utility worked to repair the extensive damage, which affected all customers in the City of Arab. The Joppa, Hulaco and Ryan Water Authority (JHR) also issued a boil water order for customers, including some Cullman County residents, in its service area.
“They’re having to restrict water consumption to bottled water for drinking over there, and that is still in effect,” said Little on Friday.
With both potable and non-potable water at a premium for Arab and JHR customers, Cullman’s EMA office delivered bottled water to the city on Friday — likely the first in what Cullman County Commission chairman Jeff Clemons said could be a long period without water for Arab residents.
“Our EMA was delivering bottled water today, trying to help them,” he said Friday. “It might be weeks or months before they get clean drinking water there. It’s incredible, the damage that occurred in that area. There are places where trees are fallen across the creeks and the bark has been stripped off. It looks like a tornado went through, but it’s all from the force of the water.”
The City of Hanceville also responded at Arab on Thursday, delivering a 6,000 gallon water tanker truck carrying non-potable water intended for non-drinking use.
Clemons said it will likely be several days before the Cullman County Commission can attach a final dollar figure to the damage locally, though he noted that the state threshold for an emergency declaration — around $7 million — would likely be surpassed when damage totals from hard-hit areas like Pelham and Arab are included.
“For us, it’s already estimated at a little over a million dollars, just for bridge replacement alone,” he said. “I’m thankful that this kind of damage did not occur all across the county and was at least confined to that one area. It’s devastating for the people who are affected, but it could have been much more widespread if we had seen that same level of flooding in other parts of Cullman County.”