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By SHAINA STOCKTON, Staff
As the harsh winter weather gives way to the rains of spring, relief is being felt by most of the residents of the Twin Counties... but not everyone.
Families who live in the low-lying “Bottom” area of Galax — Givens Street and its side streets — still suffer every time the rain clouds roll in because the water doesn’t just wash away.
It pools up, flooding the entire neighborhood, damaging homes and cars, ruining yards and forcing residents to wade through two feet of water and sometimes evacuate their homes.
Once, the fire department had to send in rescue boats to get them to safety.
With frequent floods being the norm in that area, Givens Street residents Melvin Garcia and Ceasar Lopez are no strangers to wading in waist-deep water.
“So far this year, we’ve been flooded at least once a month,” Garcia told The Gazette last week.
Four days after a rain storm, water still had not completely receded in the 400 block of Givens where they live.
Though the neighborhood is near Chestnut Creek, the waterway isn’t to blame. Storm drains and pipes in that area are inadequate and old, unable to handle the runoff of rain water that collects in the bottom of the bowl-shaped geography in that part of the city.
Within the city’s budget is the Bottom Neighborhood Revitalization Project, which is scheduled to begin later this year. The project will be conducted in three phases, first updating the neighborhood’s drainage system, followed by repairing the roads and then restoring the houses that have been damaged by the frequent flooding.
The first phase of the project is estimated at 18 months, with full completion estimated at two and a half years.
Meanwhile, the Bottom residents have kept themselves busy trying to find temporary solutions to the problem.
Garcia’s home on Givens, near the Shaw Street intersection, is located right at the center of where the water frequently pools after a heavy rain. He and his neighbors are among those who have been hit the hardest by the constant floods.
Garcia contacted The Gazette following a heavy rain on April 12, stating that his block was still submerged in two feet of water even after other areas of Givens Street had receded.
The city sent a crew to try and clear the drain pipe later that day, but water took a long time to leave. "It’s not a drain as much as it is the pipe," explained City Manager Keith Barker.
Garcia said he was frustrated with the lack of immediate response, but Barker said city public works crews were "all over town" that day dealing with washed-out roads, stopped-up pipes and drains and flooding.
Lopez, who lives across the street from Garcia, told The Gazette about his family’s constant struggle because of the floods. Just this year, police have evacuated them from their home several times.
“When we were evacuated, we had to walk,” he said. His wife, Miriam, had to be carried out because of a medical condition affecting her legs.
Residents try to move their vehicles when they are given enough warning, but Garcia says that he’s already had his car repaired several times this year. “As soon as it’s fixed, it floods again."
The day they spoke to The Gazette, Lopez and Garcia had to spring into action to push a visitor’s car out of the mud and back onto the pavement.
Lopez stood on his front porch, which was several feet higher than his front yard, and looked at the neighborhood, which was still saturated with rain on April 15. “The water has come into our neighbor’s house before,” he said. “Once, it even made it to our front door,” despite the porch’s height.
The gravel driveway leading to his home had three wooden pallets to step across, so that people could come and go from the house without stepping in the deep mud.
Their home has a basement, but Lopez said that it was useless. “We don’t think that it has molded, because we can’t smell it through the floorboards,” he said.
He understands that mold needs light and heat to grow. “If that’s true, we shouldn’t have to worry about it,” he said.
Over the years, residents have become understandably frustrated because of the situation. Garcia’s question to the city: “Isn’t there anything that can be done?”
While the permanent fix is about to get underway, two and a half years is a long time, even longer for the people who live with the constant flood threats, who hold their collective breath while checking the weather report each day.
“It’s been so long. Couldn’t [the city] send somebody, or could somebody volunteer, to help us?” Garcia asked. “We just want to find a way, an answer...”
Lopez and his family said that, at times, a resolution seems pretty hopeless.
Out in the yard one day, his family made the best of the situation by splashing and playing in the water.
“After all, it’s there either way, so why not?” he said.
While the city works the problem from its end, the Givens Street community continues to do its part to help themselves and their neighbors — all the while keeping one eye on the weather.