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Close to Home — Flooding in Haywood County, NC

It’s been a rough week in our home town.  Tropical Storm Fred made its way up from Florida on Tuesday, bringing with it an endless deluge of rain that seemed to pour waves of water from the sky for hours.  At the time, I was home in Cruso with my four boys, we’d come home early to avoid being out in the storm.  Our house sits a bit back, about 100 ft, from Pisgah Creek which feeds into the larger Pigeon River.  Our bubbling stream where the kids play, catch crawdads and fish for trout usually runs about 1-2 ft deep and flows under a small bridge that connects our drive to Chinquapin Road.

As the afternoon progressed the steady rain that we had expected, began to come in heavier waves.  We watched from the windows as a puddle began to form in the center of our yard and slowly began to spread.  The rushing of the creek was growing louder and soon became a low rumbling.  Time seemed to stand still as we watched the water creep closer and the puddle turned into a flowing extension of the creek that was now coursing through our chicken coop and storage sheds.  My concern intensified, “Ok guys, get your shoes, and pack your backpacks with a change of clothes!”  This is not what we were expecting—never in the 20 years I’ve lived in Haywood County have we seen anything like it.  

Ready to hike up the mountain and prepared for the worst, we prayed for God to protect us as we continued to watch the water flowing through the yard.  The creek, usually invisible behind thick bushes, now could be seen roiling above its banks, an angry, muddy torrent.  Power was out, but luckily our old rotary phone still managed to work and I was able to reach my husband, “You can’t come home—the bridge is under water!”  His reply, “Oh, you think that will stop me?  Jess, I’ll get home!” (To my great relief, he did eventually, but not until much later). At this point I was trying to reach other members of my family, but the rumbling became so loud that phone calls became impossible to hear above the roar, and text messages seemed to stop going through.  It was thundering all around us—but not in the sky, the sound was enormous logs and thousands of boulders tumbling down the creek bed.  We were minutes away from a wet hike in the woods when the rain began to lighten to a drizzle.  Thankfully, our home was to be spared the worst.  While we sat and watched the raging water in our own front yard, we didn’t yet think of the destruction that was taking place just down the road.  

In our rural mountain community the houses are tucked around bends and in small creek side coves, many bridges span the creek bed and culverts divert water under driveways.  Pisgah Creek flows down from the mountain of the same name, and is fed by small springs and runoff before joining the larger Pigeon River just a half mile down the road from our house.  Here the river is spanned by a tall bridge, with the water usually flowing about 20 ft below, it’s the only connection to the main road into town for the hundreds of people whose homes are hidden along the winding drives in our backwoods cove.

 

Meanwhile, down that main road my husband, Mark, sat in his truck at Frank’s Grocery and Gas Station.  The police had shutdown 276, multiple rock slides had made the road impassible and several dozen Cruso residents sat waiting in suspense to see what the storm had left behind.  Here my husband met Alan, a previously unknown neighbor who happens to live just up our road.  Finally, as the sun went down, the road was opened and he and Alan made their way down 276 to Cruso.  The scene along the way was shocking—homes completely off their foundations, collapsed hillsides and edges of the pavement washed out from below.  At the Cruso Fire Station a single wide was smashed against the side of the building.  When they crossed the Pigeon River Bridge and turned onto Chinquapin Rd the whole area was filled with debris, sheds, fences, trailers filled the wooded area beside the river and further down, was not a road, but a 40 ft wide creek flowing where the road once had been.  Leaving their vehicles parked in a tiny church parking area they hiked through a field and down a muddy slope to where the road reappeared through the water. 

 

While my husband was making his way home, I put my boys to work scrambling to find flashlight and candles for our dark night ahead.  We had a generator—but of course it was in the flooded shed! The electric pump wasn’t working, so we filled pots from the hand pump out back.  I walked down to the bridge to our drive and snapped some photos —the water had started to recede and I could now see a dam of giant logs was piled against the side of the bridge.  Upon closer inspection, one huge log had wedged straight across the creek to the right of the bridge, saving it from the impact of a dozen other massive logs that pointed out in every direction and lay across the top of our bridge.  

 


- Our immediate neighbors yard, 3 ft deep sand drift -

 


Shortly after, our neighbor from upstream, a friendly man in his 70’s, clambered over the debris filled bridge and through the yard.  He had hiked down from about a quarter mile up the road.  He himself had gone out to look at the creek and inspect his own bridge—a sturdy construction of iron and concrete similar to our own.  As he crossed over his bridge he felt it shift and it began to give way, a quick sprint is all that kept him from a swift slide into the still rumbling creek below.  The bank on the other side had collapsed.  Now, it was starting to get dark and beginning to rain, and in order to get home he’d come over our bridge and would have to hike over the steep wooded slope that adjoined our two properties.  We would soon find out that his was not the only bridge in the neighborhood that had been destroyed, leaving dozens of families and elderly residents stranded upstream.

Mark soon arrived home, wet and muddy, but safe.  We bedded the kids down in the living room, read stories of Piglet being entirely surround by water, and prayed for God’s help—our community would sure need it.

  The sun shone down the next morning on piles of sand and mud, piles of brush and logs and trash scattered everywhere.  New creeks flowing where none had been, pavement collapsing on the edges with no ground left to support it.  Soon we learned that the bridge over the river had been closed to vehicular traffic.  Only foot traffic would be allowed to ferry supplies to all those cut off and without power and water.  Information seemed to be constantly changing—the bridge would be repaired, then it was collapsing, it would take anywhere from days to months to fix, power would be off for a week or more (thankfully it actually took less than a day for most of the road).  There were a bevy of folks ferrying supplies across from the Cruso Community Center across the river and each had a different nugget of information to share.  


We got to work with the chainsaw and tractor clearing our bridge and smoothing the driveway.  Later that day we saw Alan and his wife on his four-wheeler, and learned of the other bridges up the road that were gone.  ATVs we’re the only way to get supplies across the creek bed and up the mountain to folks whose roads were washed out and riveted with rocks.  We soon began to hear chainsaws echoing around the mountain and the scrape of tractor blades on rock and muddy pavement—folks on our road weren’t waiting around to be rescued, they were getting to work!  Supplies and food boxes were heading up the road on a steady stream of ATVs and side by sides.  

Downstream at the river bridge the story was much more sober.  The Laurel Bank and Blue Ridge Motorcycle RV campgrounds had been decimated.  Numerous campers had been swept away in the river and worst of all, some of the people who had lived in them were missing.  In the days since we’ve learned the names of four of the people who died in the flood, several have yet to be found.  The reality of it hits you in the gut when you walk through the campground.  There are many who have lost almost everything.

 

The days that have followed have been a whirlwind.  We’ve walked and biked up and down our road more in two days than in the several years we’ve lived here, and met more neighbors too.   A few of them have lived in this cove for their whole lives — more than 80 years for some! All agree, none have ever seen such an event.  We joke that we’ve become the Chinquapin taxi service, giving rides in the truck to and from the river bridge which has become the place that the people of our cove have come together.  

 

Despite all the devastation there is a small treasure I’ve found amidst this suffering—a connection to strangers, not just nameless faces, but as other souls on a journey.  I have seen more compassion and caring in three days from people previously unknown.  We are not alone on this road—and while there is pain and heartache in this life, God’s light shines through the hearts and hands of people who care for each other, connecting us to one another in shared need.

 

While I sit writing this I hear the rumble of dump trucks and giant excavators making their way past our house—they’ve fixed the river bridge, at least temporarily, and are heading upstream.  Soon our little cove will be re-connected to the greater world, I hope we can retain some of the community we’ve discovered as we go back to “normal”.  I know there’s many in our area who’s normal will not return, an unknown path is ahead for many, and they’ll need help along the way.  

 

If you feel compelled to share you can donate to flood relief directly on our website.  All proceeds will go directly to flood victims who lost or are displaced from their homes.  Additionally, Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon will be donating 10% of all sales in the month of August to help our community’s recovery.

 

DONATE NOW

 

 

 

 

 

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