Roanoke leaders working to solve downtown flooding

Cars, businesses and restaurants were flooded Thursday in downtown Roanoke.

ROANOKE – Local businesses and residents in downtown Roanoke continued to clean up Friday after heavy rain caused flash flooding Thursday evening.
Roanoke City leaders say they're working on a plan to fix the issue.

That downtown flooding was the first residents have seen this season, but it's not a new issue. It’s happened over the past four years during heavy rainfalls that happen over short periods of time.

On a typical day, the biggest issue in downtown is finding a parking space, Thursday evening however, the streets looked more like rivers. Some cars were partially submerged, some even totaled.

“It ruined a few of my employees cars. They were upset. One of them just got that car,” Jonathan Kelly said.

The floors of many businesses were under water.

Kelly is the co-owner of the new restaurant in downtown Roanoke called Bushi. Bushi opened less than a month ago. Kelly said he never expected flooding would be an issue he'd have to worry about.

"Last night was horrible,“ Kelly said.

Instead of serving customers, employees at Bushi spent the evening mopping flood water out of the floor the restaurant.

"We had to close down three hours early. It's definitely an issue,” Kelly said.

An issue he didn't expect, but his neighbor businesses did. They warned him it could happen earlier that day because it’s happened to them on multiple occasions.

"The other business owners told me the day of, if it rains it is going to flood your area really quick,” Kelly said.

An old issue, and an even older frustration for business owners working to make a living. Storm Water Utilities Manager Dwayne D'Ardenne explained what's happening.

"The intensity yesterday of the storm water was incredible. We had 2.3 inches intensity inches per hour. That's a significant rain event. That's one of those where it's a 4 percent chance of happening in any given year."

Although storm drains are set up throughout the city, he explained they can't take on enough water to prevent that flooding from happening.

"I always explain it as, that in my bathtub, in my house the drain if you flip the lever to stop it up, normally it will rise in water. In my bathtub, I don't have to flip the lever, the water coming out of the faucet will fill it up regardless because the drain is too slow. That's the situation that we have downtown,” D’Ardenne said.

He says it's going to take more green infrastructure to fix the problem. But it isn’t that simple. He says they are currently working with Virginia Tech to develop a master watershed plan that will be presented to city officials in December.

About the Author: