Florence’s toll: Baby killed by tree, rescue workers search for 1-year-old swept away

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This story was updated at 7:30 a.m. Monday.

Rescue workers in Union County planned to resume their search Monday morning for a 1-year-old boy who was swept away in floodwaters on Sunday.

In Dallas, N.C., an infant boy was the first person killed by the storm in the Charlotte area. The 3-month-old died after a large pine tree fell on his mobile home Sunday afternoon, Gaston County police confirmed. Sunday was also the day 3-month-old Kade Gill turned 3 months old, reported Observer news partner WBTV.

The boy was at home with family members on Moses Court, off Old Willis School Road, around 12:45 p.m. Sunday when the tree fell.

“It basically just cut the trailer in half,” Gaston County Police Capt. Jon Leatherwood said.

The boy was pronounced dead at Carolinas Medical Center Sunday afternoon, Leatherwood said.

The Gaston Gazette identified his parents as Olen and Tammy Gill, and said the boy was in his mother’s arms on the couch when the tree crashed through the home and struck him in the head. Tammy Gill was hospitalized at CaroMont Regional Medical Center and released Sunday, the newspaper reported.

Kade Gill was alive and crying when his parents pulled him from the home, reported the Observer’s news partner WBTV.

“The tree had divided us,” Kade’s father, Olen Gill, told WBTV. “So I am in the kitchen. She (Kade’s mother) is in the living room on the couch. I had to come out and rip the air conditioner out of the window, and that’s when we handed him through the window.”

Including this case, Hurricane Florence has killed at least 17 people in the Carolinas. Eleven of those fatalities were in North Carolina.

On Monday morning, the Union County Sheriff’s Office said they were resuming the search for Kaiden Lee-Welch. He was lost Sunday in rushing water from Richardson Creek, which flooded across N.C. 218.

Detectives said the boy’s mother was driving east on N.C. 218. They believe she drove around barricades blocking the flooded road, and her car was swept away.

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Kaiden Lee-Welch, one, lost in flood waters at N.C. 218 in Union County.

Courtesy Union County Sheriff’s office

“Her vehicle left the roadway and came to rest amongst a group of trees,” the Union County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “She managed to free herself and Kaiden, who was in a car seat, but lost her grip on him in the rushing water.”

Rescue teams spent several hours searching for Kaiden on Sunday before calling off the rescue mission for the night.

Partial levee breach

A flash flood warning had been issued for southwestern Rowan County until 11:45 p.m. Sunday, the National Weather Service said. It also said that at 8:44 p.m., “Rowan County Emergency Management is reporting a partial breach of the Lake Corriher levee in Landis.”

But it appeared Monday morning that the remainder of the levee would hold.

“Due to the decrease in heavy rainfall, water levels have receded from the dam and levee,” Rowan County Emergency Mangaement said in a statement. They planned to continue monitoring the situation. Landis is about 30 miles northeast of Charlotte.

Rising creeks

Meanwhile, creeks rose all over the Charlotte area Sunday afternoon. The southern part of Mecklenburg County and its neighbors to the southeast faced particular trouble. Rain gages there measured massive rainfall over the past three days: 10.9 inches at Matthews Elementary School, 11 inches nearby on U.S. 74, 10.2 inches at McAlpine and Sardis roads.

At 1:30 p.m., after much of the metro area had been pelted since early morning with gusting winds and sheets of rain, the National Weather Service issued a rare emergency flood warning for south Charlotte, Pineville, Matthews and Mint Hill. There, the drainage basins of some of Mecklenburg County’s best-known creeks began spilling over into roadways, bridges and neighborhoods.

The emergency warning was quickly extended to Union and York counties.

The weather service told residents in the quickly expanding emergency flash-flood area that they faced an “extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation,” and the agency urged people not to travel unless they were evacuating.

“SEEK HIGHER GROUND NOW!” the weather service said in an unusually urgent Sunday afternoon statement.

In Union, afternoon flooding had already closed roads and bridges and set off home rescues, authorities said. At 4:15 p.m., the county Emergency Management Service announced a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew due to worsening conditions.

By 4 p.m., several creeks had risen above flood stage, the National Weather Service said. The Weather Service said McAlpine Creek would flood homes around Colony Road and Weirton Place and Little Sugar Creek was likely to flood homes near Archdale Drive.

Buildings near Addison Drive in southeast Charlotte were already taking on water from McMullen Creek, the National Weather Service said, and buildings along N.C. 51 in Pineville are at risk of flooding.

“At least 20 roads roads have been closed due to floodwaters in the southern part of (Mecklenburg) county. Travel is dangerous,” the National Weather Service said.

The threat of similar flooding is expected to cross the state line later today and move south into the fast-growing York County cities of Fort Mill, Rock Hill and Tega Cay, the weather service said.

Meanwhile, flooding along the Catawba River could come as early as Monday, Duke Energy says.

Many of the worsening conditions appeared to be the result of the heavy rainfall that fell Sunday morning on an already saturated city.

Rain gauges in the flash-flooded south Mecklenburg areas recorded the highest totals of 24-hour rainfall in the county. At 4:30 p.m. Matthews Elementary reported 8.30 inches. Providence High had received more than 8 inches. Reports of between 5 and 7 inches ranging from center city Charlotte to the south were common.

Doug Outlaw, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office in Greenville-Spartanburg, said bands of rain from the remains of Florence moving across South Carolina set off widespread flooding throughout Chesterfield County, S.C., then crossed the state line into Union County. There, rising creeks fed by rainfall and runoff crested bridges and roads, and forced home evacuations, he said.

In south Mecklenburg, rain also brought the water levels in Briar Creek, McMullen Creek and Little Sugar Creek to near flood stage, leading the weather service to issue the rare emergency flood warning, Outlaw said.

Across the region, Duke Energy says water could begin spilling out of several of its lakes above and below Charlotte starting as early as Monday evening, utility spokeswoman Kim Crawford told the Observer on Sunday.

The most immediate flooding threats are to areas along lakes James, Rhodhiss and Lookout Shoals, Crawford said, where the reservoirs are expected to be several feet above full pond by Monday evening, Crawford said.

Duke is also monitoring Mountain Island Lake, a major source of the region’s drinking water. But Crawford said Duke’s fears of flooding there have eased for now due to tapering rainfall in that part of the county.

Elsewhere, as the rainfall and runoff move southward, and are passed dam to dam around Charlotte, the flood threat moves into Duke’s reservoirs in South Carolina. The threat is particularly heightened at Lake Wateree, the last and lowest reservoir on the chain.

Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins says the combination of rainfall and runoff will plague the Catawba basin for days or even weeks to come.

Duke began preparing for the arrival of Florence weeks ago by lowering water levels 4 to 5 feet in its four biggest reservoirs — James, Norman, Wylie and Wateree — in anticipation of what Florence was expected to dump across the region. All that will be compounded by a massive runoff from the river’s countless tributaries, stretching hundreds of miles from the mountains to the S.C. Upstate.

Across the metropolitan area, reports of downed trees increased sharply — on Queens Road West, Fort Mill and across Rock Hill. So did the threat of localized and river flooding.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and the City of Charlotte and other local authorities took to Twitter to announce the latest road closings.

“Road conditions are deteriorating quickly,” the city tweeted Sunday morning. “We highly urge you to stay off the roads unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

In announcing the flash-flood warning (a flood watch continues for most of the region through Monday night) the National Weather Service said the accumulating rainfall would start covering streets and low-lying areas while overwhelming underpasses and storm drains.

“Residents and motorists are urged to exercise extreme caution today,” the weather service said.

As with rainfall, the bulk of the power outages appear to have occurred in the more heavily populated area of the region, according to Duke Energy, and those numbers continued to rise.

The number of Mecklenburg County residents doubled throughout the morning, to almost 30,000. At midday, Union County had 5,100 Duke customers without power; Gaston County, 3,800; and York County, 3,200.

By comparison, in New Hanover County/Wilmington alone, where the storm made landfall last week, the outages approached 104,000. Duke estimated that as many as three-quarters of its N.C. customers, or 3 million in all, could lose power before the storm ends.

Much of the Charlotte area and Western North Carolina remained under a flash flood watch into Monday morning, with 6 inches or more of additional precipitation possible through Sunday night.

Flooding already is occurring on some of the area’s biggest waterways. The weather service said the Broad River in Cherokee County, S.C., was expected to crest today more than 3 feet above flood stage by Monday morning, threatening to breach several roads near Blacksburg.

The National Weather Service says the South Fork River in Gaston County is expected to crest at 6 1/2 feet above flood stage on Monday, threatening roads, bridges, parks and homes, particularly in and around Cramerton.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will be closed again Monday, already the third day off for students in a school year that’s just begun. Charlotte city and Mecklenburg County offices will also be closed Monday.

Mecklenburg County courts will be closed Monday, except for an afternoon session in courtroom 1150, the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office tweeted.

Staff Writers Mark Price, Joe Marusak, LaVendrick Smith and Adam Bell contributed.