Governor Roy Cooper declared a State of Emergency for western North Carolina after heavy rains prompted mudslides in multiple communities, closed portions of I-40 east of Asheville and triggered evacuations of Old Fort and a community near Lake Tahoma in McDowell County.
“Our emergency response and transportation crews have been working through the night to keep North Carolinians safe as conditions deteriorate,” Governor Cooper said. “But this storm isn’t yet over. I’m urging people to keep a close eye on forecasts and flood watches, and asking drivers to use caution especially when travelling in our western counties.”
The State of Emergency helps the state coordinate storm response and prepare for any additional impacts. The Governor also issued a transportation waiver to expedite the movement of utility vehicles and others engaged in relief efforts.
Within the previous 24 hours, four to seven inches of rain fell across portions of the mountains adding to the already heavily saturated ground. Areas along the Blue Ridge have received 10-20” of rain since May 15th, making conditions favorable for downed trees and mudslides.
Scattered showers and thunderstorms will continue for the next several days, continuing the threat of flash flooding across the mountains. Primary concerns right now are the stability of mountain slopes and several dams. Mudslides have occurred in numerous areas. Local and state officials are closely monitoring the dams at Lake Lure, Lake Tahoma, Lake Tuxedo and North Fork Lake and are sending state dam safety engineers to areas of concern.
State and local officials are keeping a close watch on rivers across western NC, where several rivers are currently experiencing minor flooding and the French Broad River at Blantyre is forecast to experience moderate flooding. Additionally, there are several rivers across eastern NC that are near or forecast to be near Minor Flood Stage over the coming days.
Local officials had ordered a mandatory evacuation of downtown Old Fort due to extensive flooding and of the area below the Lake Tahoma Dam. A voluntary evacuation for Chimney Rock was also requested. A licensed care facility and mobile home parks in Buncombe also were evacuated. An engineer inspected the Tahoma dam this morning and local officials cancelled the evacuation order around 10:30 a.m.
Overnight the state deployed more than 50 search and rescue technicians. A combination of swift water rescue and urban search and rescue teams from Greensboro, Mooresville and Charlotte are being sent to McDowell, Rutherford and Jackson counties to help with any potential rescues.
More than 200 people have sought refuge in one of six shelters. Most of the evacuees are staying in one of three shelters open in McDowell County; other shelters are open in Buncombe, Polk and Rutherford counties More than 6,500 power outages were reported across western counties, mostly in Henderson, McDowell Cleveland, Buncombe, Swain and Transylvania.
State transportation officials have closed roads in Avery, Buncombe, McDowell, Watauga, Henderson, Rutherford, Macon, Polk, Mitchell, Transylvania, Gaston, Catawba and Iredell counties.
At the Buncombe-McDowell County line, two westbound lanes and one eastbound lane of Interstate 40 near Mile Marker 67 were closed by a mudslide. Five vehicles were caught in the mud but no injuries were reported. Transportation crews worked through the night to clear debris from the road. By 2 a.m., crews restored two lanes in the eastbound direction and one lane in the westbound direction.
In McDowell County, two NCDOT workers were rescued after the tandem dump truck they were using to help clear a mud slide was pushed off a road by another slide and into the Catawba River. They climbed out through a passenger window and stood on the side of the truck in the water until emergency crews got them to safety.