Published: 2021-08-17 17:28:00
Updated: 2021-08-19 19:03:14
Posted August 17, 2021 5:28 p.m. EDT
Updated August 19, 2021 7:03 p.m. EDT
Canton, N.C. — Officials in Haywood County confirmed Thursday that two people were found dead overnight and 20 others are still missing.
The remnants of Tropical Depression Fred hit parts of western North Carolina hard, triggering flooding and mudslides Tuesday and Wednesday. Several communities in Haywood County had to be evacuated late Tuesday night as rivers flooded into the streets, prompting Gov. Roy Cooper to issue a State of Emergency. Gov. Cooper and Sen. Thom Tillis toured the damage on Thursday.
Roughly 500 families are without homes and countless businesses are struggling in the area. The state is working to get more funding to help.
“It is very difficult to manage the damage to people’s hearts and minds seeing their beloved homes and businesses, school area, athletic fields damaged by water,” Gov. Cooper said. "What we know is this - we are going to help rebuild this area, but we also have to keep in mind that when we build back, we have to be more resilient. Storms are more ferocious than they were before, climate change has contributed to that."
Cooper said the two deaths were due to drowning. There were three main roads and 22 secondary roads that were still closed as of Thursday afternoon. Around 10 to 15 bridges were damaged, according to Cooper.
“We have not lost any lives in the town of Canton, but our hearts are heavy for other areas...this is a Haywood County tragedy.” Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers said during a news conference.
Smathers is trying to secure federal relief funding. Cooper has promised assistance from the state.
Previously, on Wednesday afternoon, Haywood County officials told WRAL News approximately 35 people are missing, but more were found as of Thursday. Search and rescue crews were looking for the missing people via land, water and air.
Haywood County officials are working to identify the victims and deliver the news to their families before putting out any additional information.
Several people were located and several others were added to the list throughout Wednesday as loved ones called in.
Search teams ended for Wednesday around 7 p.m. to protect searchers as it started to get dark. Haywood county officials said engineering teams are arriving to assess damage and build temporary bridges.
There is concern that more forecasted rain could lead to flooding, but WRAL meteorologist Aimee Wilmoth says the risk is low at least today.
On Wednesday, Gov. Cooper said around 98 people had been rescued after several communities had water levels reach 3 to 7 feet higher than their previous high watermark. Up to 50,000 people were without power at one point, though that number was closer to 11,000 on Wednesday afternoon.
"With more rain in the forecast at the end of the week, we know that more flooding is possible," Cooper said. "North Carolina is all too familiar with devastating flooding events. We’ll continue to monitor and provide support from the state level."
Locals also told WRAL they were concerned with more rain in the forecast.
"So the river is still up and if it were to rain heavily, then it’s going to come out again and it’s just going to re-damage everything else," said Megan Edwards, who lives in Clyde.
Athletic fields at Pisgah High School were seriously damaged. Bleachers were flipped over at a softball field and the football stadium had portions of its recently installed field turf ripped up. The football stadium had been recently renovated.
One woman had emergency officials pounding on her door on Tuesday night.
"They told me come down or we'll carry you out," said Canton resident Virginia Clements. "I don't know when I'll be able to get back into my home."
In addition to the local first responders already helping with the recovery effort, 250 more from across the state, including the Triangle, have descended to the area to help. Cruso, an unincorporated community in Haywood County, was so badly hit that officials have blocked off areas until further notice. In a news conference, Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher asked people to avoid Cruso.
In Cruso, officials estimate that 200 homes were swept away by floodwaters and believe $300 million in damage was done.
Nearly 9 inches of rain was reported in Haywood County as the National Weather Service issued a Flash Flood Emergency. There was a life-threatening flood wave moving down the Pigeon River through Canton, Clyde, and into Lake Waterville at around 8:30 p.m. People were advised to evacuate to higher ground immediately.
The town of Canton was one of the hardest hit areas. Search and rescue task forces from Cary and New Hanover County traveled west to help residents there and shared photos of flooded neighborhoods.
The day after in Canton revealed no confirmed loss of life, but plenty of physical damage and disappointment at the Community Kitchen, a soup kitchen that's served hot meals for the last 12 years. They are almost always open, but the kitchen closed Tuesday night in anticipation of flooding. Chairman Chris Jennings said they lost 200,000 pounds of food.
"This is obviously nasty," Jennings said. "I'm sure there's sewage in it and everything else. I know people lost their homes last night. I know people lost everything they have. So for us to be down, it's not a real good time for us to be down."
Many emergency crews are coming to Haywood County to help with the recovery effort. One task force includes 26 members of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill fire departments. The crews are compromised of water rescue, paramedics and helicopter rescue teams. Raleigh Fire Capt. Wayne Motley is leading the effort in Waynesville.
"Everywhere you look, they're struggling a bit," Motley said. "They're suffering right now. There are houses gone, entire buildings gone."
Crews were floating in front of homes on rafts looking for people to rescue. Thirteen adults and two children were rescued on that mission, officials said.
Jessalyn Owensby, a Canton resident, posted photos and a video on Facebook that she saw parts of houses, a pool, a building and a truck all wash away in floodwaters. She said she even saved a mouse from drowning.
A mudslide was reported on the American Thread Road in McDowell County Tuesday at around 8 p.m. It's unclear if anyone has been injured at this time.
The risk for flash flooding on Tuesday night was "as high as it gets," according to WRAL meteorologist Kat Campbell.
Mayor of Canton Zeb Smathers said he saw businesses and homes underwater on Tuesday night. He said he will only know the true amount of damage Fred left behind when the sun comes up on Wednesday.
"We are asking if you are in areas near the river, this is not a drill, this is serious, please move to higher ground, this is not over yet," he said.
The only access bridge to Worley Cove Road in the town of Canton was completely washed out. People were trapped, unable to cross the road as water rushed by where the bridge once was.
Water continues to quickly rise along portions of the Pigeon River in Haywood County. WRAL meteorologist Aimee Wilmoth reports that the river is cresting at more than 16 feet -- which is a new record.
Kasey Riddle, who owns a farm in Cruso, said she watched as people were swept away by the floodwaters.
"Our friend saw someone clinging to a bush and disappeared," she said.
She also saw the floodwaters carry homes and cars away.
Haywood County Emergency Services said Wednesday that at least 10 to 15 bridges were damaged or destroyed.
Photos show that water reached the top of Riddle's cattle fence.
"Hopefully, all our cows are on high ground," she said.
A rockslide on Interstate 40 near Asheville caused by the storm created a major traffic back-up. The interstate's westbound lanes near Exit 37, or Wiggins Road, were closed for several hours.
More than 6 inches of rain was reported in Asheville on Tuesday night.
At the end of U.S. Highway 70, in Black Mountain, the Swannanoa River was breached, and was rushing into the streets.
Parking lots were flooded near the Dynamite Roasting Co., Brian Brace and Koppinger.
Officials say that the Swannanoa River in the Biltmore Village area could overflow sometime Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. If that happens, the water will move down into the commercial district of Biltmore Village near Asheville.
Back in 2004, when the area was hit by back-to-back hurricanes, water was up to people's shoulders in the village. Local businesses owners say almost all of the downtown shops were washed out.
Tornado watches and warnings were issued for dozens of counties in western North Carolina near Sugar Mountain and Banner Elk. The state saw more than a dozen tornadoes on Tuesday night. The triad was under a Tornado Watch until early Wednesday morning, and more tornadoes were possible.
Campbell said that Fred is giving the state the perfect "ingredients" for tornadoes.