SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) — Firefighters say rough currents and debris capsized multiple boats during the effort to rescue two small children during a flash flood in Johnston County.
The search continued well into Tuesday afternoon for the children, a boy and a girl, who were swept away after their mother’s car ended up in a flooded creek off Galilee Road in Smithfield.
“I’d like everyone to keep their thoughts and prayers with the family of the children that are lost right now,” said Smithfield Fire Chief John Blanton.
The Johnston County Sheriff’s Office led the recovery mission Tuesday in the wooded area where the floodwater receded.
The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office deployed a helicopter to search the area from above for any sign of the children, who a family member said are ages 5 and 6.
A team from NC used K-9 units to look for the children on the ground.
Blanton says just before 11:30 p.m. Monday the mother called 911 saying she was in her car, in the water, and had been swept off the road.
Multiple departments including a crew from Four Oaks raced to the scene. Blanton says a member of the Four Oak Fire Department found the mother and one child.
“They got into the water and they were able to rescue a child and the mother. The water was so turbulent the boat capsized and they lost the child. They were able to regain the mother,” he said.
In total, four swift water rescue boats capsized in the effort to save the children. Several firefighters had to be pulled to safety, or rescued by boat.
“The amount water and the current is so strong, it overcomes you when you start to turn a boat. When you’re in debris and trees and stuff, they were fighting against that as well,” said Blanton. “When it would hit a tree it would flip over basically. That was the condition they were in last night.”
Blanton said the current, and darkness were a challenge for crews overnight. They needed to wait for the fog to lift before allowing helicopter crews to begin the search.
Blanton says the creek runs about one-half mile before flowing into the Neuse River.
People who live near the creek say it’s prone to flooding, and they’ve asked for a bridge to be built over the creek.
NCDOT says it replaced an old culvert under Galilee Road that washed out during Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
A spokesperson says a hydraulic study determined a new culvert was recommended as a replacement, not the construction of a bridge at the location.
The new culvert is almost eight-feet high and it runs 10 feet long and has not required any maintenance over the past four years, per a spokesperson. NCDOT says it’s standard policy to design culverts for secondary roads for a 25-year storm event.
State Highway Patrol says it’s still unclear if the road washed out before the mother’s car was swept into the water, or after.