Local News

Search Continues for Ivan's Victims in N.C. Mountain Town

Posted September 20, 2004

— Emergency workers are using cadaver dogs and heavy equipment to search for four people still missing in Macon County after last week's flooding.

Crews were expected to return Monday with body-sniffing dogs to resume the search among tons of mud, water and debris that swept down Peek's Creek during heavy rain from the remnants of Hurricane Ivan.

"The brush piles up there are totally unbelievable. There are cars completely buried in these piles," said Johnny Teem, chief of the Cullasaja Gorge volunteer fire department.

About half the 30 homes in this Macon County community were destroyed, many knocked off their foundations and washed down the valley.

A toddler and two adults were killed Friday. County emergency services director Warren Cabe said their names could be released Monday. A woman who survived the disaster remained in critical condition on Sunday after doctors had to amputate one of her legs, Teem said. She lost the fetus she had carried for seven months.

Five other people were killed in floods or other storm-related incidents in western North Carolina.

Sheriff Robbie Holland said all four of the missing are residents of the Peeks Creek and Cullasaja communities between Franklin and Highlands. In three of those four cases, out-of-state relatives or friends called the county to report them missing, Holland said. Officials don't know whether they were home when the floods began.

"We don't know if they were shopping at Wal-Mart or Kmart or what before they went missing," Holland said.

Resident Gilmer Watts has said one of the missing is his brother, James, and one of the dead is James Watts' wife, Katie.

The other three killed were family members of one of Teem's fellow firefighters who was at the station Thursday night when the landslide wiped out his home.

Teem declined to name the firefighter or any of his family members, saying not all of his remaining family has been notified. He said he talked to the man Sunday morning.

President Bush approved a disaster declaration Saturday, allowing residents and business owners in 16 mountain counties qualify for help to pay for temporary housing, home repairs and other expenses. Home and business owners also qualify for low-interest loans to cover losses not compensated by insurance.

About 65,000 people were without power Sunday, down from 213,000 at the storm's peak.

Gov. Mike Easley planned to tour disaster scenes in Macon County and speak with emergency workers in Buncombe County on Monday.

Traffic began flowing again Sunday on Interstate 40 in the Pigeon River Gorge in Haywood County. Workers opened one lane of travel in each direction on Western North Carolina's major east-west artery, said Roger Ayers, deputy division traffic engineer for the state Transportation Department.

Dozens of other roads around the region remained closed, with 40 roads closed in Buncombe County alone, authorities said.

Rescue workers continued to be pressed into service on some roads closed by high water.

Just past the intersection of Banner Farm Road and Cam's Path near Etowah, a white Toyota sedan sat stranded Sunday in more than 12 inches of water. It was the third car in 24 hours that had disobeyed a road barricade, forcing the fire department to rescue the motorists inside, said Mike Huggins, assistant chief of the Etowah-Horse Shoe Volunteer Fire Department.

"It's hard to judge the depth of the water," he said. "People just don't understand that."

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