CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Amid heavy downpours, two women suspected of shoplifting at a Charlotte coat store ran into a swollen, fast-moving stream. One woman drowned and the other was missing, authorities said.
The torrential rains caused flash flooding, swamped drivers and forced residents to evacuate neighborhoods. Crews rescued motorists and residents by boat, and were searching the stream for the other shoplifting suspect.
"Tragically, today we had some people who were caught in very dangerous water conditions," Fire Department Capt. Rob Brisley said.
Police identified the dead woman as Gracie Nell Johnson, 43, but did not provide the name of the missing woman. Johnson and two others were at a Burlington Coat Factory in the city when a store employee called police to report shoplifting, according to a statement from police.
One of the trio was taken into custody, while Johnson and another woman ran. A store employee chased them, and all three plunged into a creek near the shopping center. The worker made it out, but Johnson and the other woman were swept away.
Johnson's body was found after a search.
"It's tragic when you go to many, many calls and save many, many lives that you have a call where you can't save a person's life," Brisley said.
Police and firefighters planned to continue the search as long as conditions remained safe.
Firefighters and other emergency responders began heading out on flood-related calls around noon. Motorists were trapped in their cars by high water and residents watched clogged storm drains flood their property. People from two neighborhoods were evacuated when creeks spilled over their banks, but no injuries were reported.
In some neighborhoods, heavy rain seeped through roofs and flooded the insides of homes and businesses.
The sudden deluge was caused by heavy showers and thunderstorms which deposited up to 6 inches of rain in some parts of the city, all falling within a few hours.
"From about noon, for three hours we were responding to calls from one end of the city to the other," Brisley said.