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Four people escape vehicle before it’s washed away in flash flood

MORE: Read more news from Fredericksburg

Four occupants of this Ford Explorer escaped through a sunroof moments before it was swept down Hazel Run  at Alum Springs Park during torrential rains Tuesday evening.  It was found about a half-mile away, wedged between large logs. (DAVE ELLIS / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Four occupants of this Ford Explorer escaped through a sunroof moments before it was swept down Hazel Run at Alum Springs Park during torrential rains Tuesday evening. It was found about a half-mile away, wedged between large logs. (DAVE ELLIS / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

A Ford Explorer SUV that was swept away by water from Alum Springs Park Tuesday was found this afternoon near the Blue & Gray Parkway.

Photo by Justin Rainey

Four passengers in a Ford Explorer managed to escape moments before it was washed downstream in a flash flood in Fredericksburg on Tuesday.

It was one of the many problems the torrential rain caused for area residents.

During the day’s second storm, around 7:40 p.m., the Explorer tried to cross Hazel Run to exit the parking lot at Alum Spring Park. The crossing is designed so that residents can drive over the stream, but usually the stream covers the concrete in just a few inches of water, city police spokeswoman Natatia Bledsoe said.

Because of the rain, the area experienced a flash flood that caused the water in Hazel Run to rise quickly. When the people tried to drive over the stream, the vehicle was swept away by the water, police said.

The owner of the Ford, Justin Rainey, 26, said he and his friends returned to the park to retrieve a cellphone and had no problem crossing Hazel Run. But while they were searching for the phone, the rain began to fall more heavily, he added.

By the time the group left the park, the stream had risen considerably and the SUV couldn’t drive through the water.

“The car started to fill up with water, and we climbed out of the sun roof,” Rainey said. “As soon as we landed in the water, the car started to move.”

Everyone in the Ford was able to climb through the sun roof to safety, but the car was not retrieved from the water, officials added. To keep first responders safe, the police and fire and rescue workers on-site decided not to look for the vehicle Tuesday night.

The Ford was not within sight of the park Wednesday morning.

Rainey said he found the vehicle Wednesday afternoon near State Route 3 and Lafayette Boulevard about a half-mile downstream from the park.

The SUV finally stopped moving when it lodged between several large tree trunks.

“I don’t think they’re going to be able to get it out,” Rainey said.

The sweeping streams caused by flash flooding were just one safety concern in Fredericksburg during the storm.

Earlier in the day, at around 2 p.m., a tree was struck by lightning and fell onto a parked car on Hanson Avenue, Bledsoe said. No one was injured, and city crews came out to remove the tree.

A tree fell onto a car on Hansen Avenue during last night's heavy rainfall. / Photo courtesy of Fredericksburg Police Dept.

A tree fell onto a car on Hansen Avenue during last night’s heavy rainfall. / Photo courtesy of Fredericksburg Police Dept.

With 2.08 inches of rainfall in Fredericksburg, according to the University of Mary Washington, the storms were more powerful than any last year, and doused the area in more water than all but one shower this year.

This month has been a particularly wet one, accounting for almost 12 percent of this year’s rain. July’s rain has exceeded the normal month to date level by more than half an inch. And it’s only halfway through July.

In 2014, it has rained 26.5 inches, which is about 4 inches more than normal.

The biggest risk of heavy rains is flash flooding, said Amy Bettwy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. According to radar indications, an area in Spotsylania county recieved between 4 and 5 inches of rain, which put the county at high risk for flash floods, she added.

The Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office responded to a flash flood when the rain began to fall at its heaviest, officials said. But other than redirecting traffic around the flooding, the county didn’t face many problems.

Similarly, the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office dealt with a few roads where water was high enough to affect traffic, but by Wednesday morning everything was clear and back to normal, said spokesman Bill Kennedy.

If the wet year continues, heavy rains could cause flash floods in the future. The National Weather Service urges drivers to turn around if they come across a roadway flooded with water. Even a modest amount of water can carry a vehicle downstream in a flood.

With rain forecasted for early next week, safety tips for flooding are important to keep in mind.

The National Weather Service predicts a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms and rain all day Sunday, a slightly higher chance of rain Monday and a 50 percent chance of storms Tuesday.

Katie Shepherd 540/374-5417

kshepherd@freelancestar.com

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