CALDWELL COUNTY, N.C. -- Caldwell County is testing new flash flood warning sirens this week to improve the safety along a creek that has claimed three drowning victims since July, including a 10-year-old Charlotte girl.
Delilah Lovett, the Charlotte victim, and 48-year-old Huntersville resident Juan Alberdi died on July 27 in Wilson Creek, a popular recreation area that stretches for miles, as rain in the foothills caused flash floods and power outages.
“They got caught in the real swift currents up here and disappeared,” LouAnne Kincaid, a spokeswoman for Caldwell County, said in July.
Alberdi and Delilah were members of a group that went to Wilson Creek to swim. The creek is about 100 miles north of Charlotte.
Alberdi and his two children were with a friend and her two children, including Delilah, Kincaid said.
Shortly after they arrived, Alberdi and Delilah went to swim in an area of the creek known locally as Lady on the Rock. They were swept away by swift currents soon after they got in, Kincaid said.
“(The creek) is a rapidly flowing river anyway,” Kincaid said. “It doesn’t take a lot of rain to get it moving really fast.”
On Sept. 2, Elder Ortiz Velasquez drowned in the rain-swollen creek near Brown Mountain Beach Resort. Friends told authorities that Velasquez, a 22-year-old from Guatemala, was not a good swimmer and got caught in the rapid current of the creek.
The Wilson Creek area has experienced flash flooding in 13 of the past 29 years, county officials said Friday. Eight drownings have occurred since 1988.
This year alone, Wilson Creek has had up to 10 flash flood warnings, officials said. About 50,000 tourists travel each year to the Wilson Creek area.
5 sirens to be tested this week
Five flash flood sirens were installed recently along eight miles of Wilson Creek.
On Wednesday, a three-minute test will ensure that all five are functioning properly, County Manager Stan Kiser said Friday.
After this first test, monthly 10-second tests of the sirens will be scheduled for noon on the first Wednesday of each month.
The first siren is at Brown Mountain Beach Campground. Other sirens are placed about two to three miles apart up Brown Mountain Beach Road, with the farthest north siren at Edgemont Baptist Church off N.C. 90.
Kiser said the sirens are placed to accommodate the terrain, with the sound covering the entire stretch of the Wilson Creek gorge area.
The sirens will be set off only during a flash flood warning or a tornado warning, Kiser said.
“They will not be set off for a ‘Watch’ weather condition of any kind or fires,” he said. “They will be controlled by a series of tone signals at Caldwell County 911 Telecommunications.”
Signs have been mounted throughout the area.
Mileage signs are placed in half-mile intervals beginning at the intersection of Adiko and Brown Mountain Beach roads and continuing up Brown Mountain Beach Road to where it intersects with N.C. 90 at Betsy’s Store in Edgemont.
Location signs also will be placed at Lady on the Rock and an area called “Bathtubs” on Wilson Creek.
Siren and flood warning hazard signs in both English and Spanish are being placed on the siren poles and throughout the area.
The signs are to educate tourists and help them accurately report their location and route emergency workers to where they are during an emergency, Kincaid said.
A $119,700 grant from the North Carolina Emergency Management Hazard Mitigation Grant Program is paying for the sirens and signs.