Mother Nature packed a gut punch on Aug. 17 that left Asheville and Western North Carolina battered in the wake of Tropical Storm Fred.
While the torrential rain and flooding have passed, Governor Roy Cooper has declared a State of Emergency in several Western North Carolina counties, where residents are recovering and businesses are poised for weeks of closure, cleanup and revenue loss.
In Candler, at Whitt Motor Sales, 1476 Smokey Park Hwy., business owner Bruce Whitt marked daybreak following last Tuesday’s downpour mopping up mud and clearing debris from the overflowed Hominy Creek that runs alongside his car lot and demolished the interior of his storefront.
“I have been through three storms,” said Whitt, describing the events of Aug. 17. I’ve been through ’77, ’04 and this one, and I have never seen anything like this. In 5 minutes the business was dry and then water was up to our hips. It moved in so fast that by the time we knew what was happening there was nowhere to go. We tried to cross the road but couldn’t because of the speed, so we had no choice but to go up into the attic. We called 911 and water rescue had to come and get us.”
“The rescue squad was hustling, doing all that they could,” Whitt added. “God bless them to get us out. I can’t say enough of about how great they were.”
Whitt said he expects his business will be closed for about two to three weeks as everything from drywall to furniture to computer equipment and more will need to be replaced.
Storm Watch Started the Day Before
Being in business for 47 years in the same location, shop owners situated along waterways get to know the landscape.
Through good weather and bad, they are able to read the sky’s signs that offer up a forecast for when it’s safe to operate and when it’s probably a good idea to close up.
For Whitt and his friend Lane Brown, who spends some of his days down at Whitt Motor Sales keeping his friend company when business is slow, the weather forecasts of Monday, Aug. 16, were foreboding.
On Monday afternoon, TV weathermen declared that heavy chances of rain associated with Tropical Storm Fred would most likely soak the Carolinas.
In preparation for the weather, Brown said he and Whitt installed a security camera on a lighting pole on the west-facing side of the car lot to monitor the rising water in Hominy Creek. That way, Whitt could keep tabs on possible floodwater from his home office. Over the years, Brown said heavy storms have been notorious for causing water to overflow the creek’s banks.
“We kept an eye on the camera and saw the water was rising and we knew that if the level hit those pipes we were going to have to come down and move the cars out,” Brown said. “When we got to the lot we moved as fast as we could to get the vehicles up the hill and as much stuff out of here as we could. I had a TV inside the U-Haul and by the time I came back to start loading stuff it was filled with water.
“The water just opened up like flood doors,” Brown said. “The current was so swift. We didn’t have time to get back up to our cars that were up the road to get out.”
So, back they turned, to the small office and the little wooden ladder that led to safety in the shop’s attic.
There, Brown and two others, including Whitt, would wait until water rescue arrived.
Outside, the storm raged.
“It’s just devastating. Fortunately, we were able to get his inventory of vehicles out, all except one motorcycle,” Brown said.
In addition to the rising water, Whitt’s security camera caught a car driven by teenagers that drove head-first into the creek. Apparently, as the water had completely covered Smoky Mountain Highway, the driver thought the roadway continued on the left side of the bridge. He was wrong. It’s a miracle, Brown said, that the motorist and passenger escaped from the accident uninjured.
Further Down the Road
At the same time Whitt and his friends were seeking refuge from the flood, the washed-out bridge at Sand Hill Road near the Jetstop Shell Convenience Center had drivers swimming from their cars to escape the rushing water.
Motorist Barbara Key shot a cell phone video from her car that shows the roof of a vehicle that is barely visible as it was carried away by the flood.
In the days following the wrath of Tropical Storm Fred, Buncombe County has rallied around its residents and continues to help where it can.
“Our hearts go out to those who suffered unimaginable loss and damages from this storm,” said Mayor Esther Manheimer.
Calls for emergencies related to the storm concerned moving water rescues, downed trees and downed power lines. Many roads in and around the city were flooded and businesses sustained various damages.
“Our Asheville fire, police and public works employees are not only well trained but also incredibly dedicated to the safety of this community,” added the mayor. “I am personally proud of their work in the face of this storm, especially in performing rescues.”
At BeLovedAsheville, a non-profit support organization, Co-director Adrienne Sigmon said volunteers have been on the ground in areas most impacted by the flooding in Buncombe and Haywood counties.
“We knew by late Tuesday night that there would be a huge need in our area as this is often the case with heavy rains,” Sigmon said. “We immediately saw the impact as our family was lucky enough to receive warning and were evacuated on Tuesday night. At that point, we began to reach out to the community for supplies. Since we’ve done flood and disaster relief work in the past, we anticipated the resources needed.
“Since Fred hit on Tuesday, we have distributed four truckloads of cleaning supplies, over 24,000 diapers/wipes/formula, multiple pallets of water, kids toys and tons of food. We have helped households clean their belongings from their homes and have helped with retrieving cars from rivers and creeks after they were swept away in the flood,” Sigmon said.
And the work continues
Those seeking to help flood victims are encouraged to contact BeLovedAsheville. Sought-after items include diapers, mops, brooms, disinfectant sprays, toiletries and cash.
For information, visit www.belovedasheville.com. Cash donations may be made via Venmo @BeLoved-Asheville or the CashApp $ BeLovedAsheville.