U.S. 176 caked in mud following Friday rainstorms

Published 7:30 pm Saturday, May 19, 2018

SALUDA — Boulders half the size of cars, downed power poles and lines, and 3 to 6 or more feet of mud covered U.S. 176 about one third of the way up between Tryon and Saluda Saturday, following a massive rainstorm that swept through Polk County and western North Carolina Friday evening.

On the side of the road next to a washed-out driveway sat a car that could not get home.

Water washed the road away from the guard rail and washed the earth out from under the edge of the road. Cracks in the road from the mountain side to the washed out cliff showed the road was no longer safe to pass.

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“I heard it last night,” said Michael Derwort, as he sat on the porch of his Aunt Lillie Cleland’s house on U.S. 176, about a mile above the mudslide.

The big slide happened just below a vacation house located at 3791 U.S. Highway 176. A few hundred yards up the road, Tau Rock Vineyard Lane was also badly washed out, and a small SUV sat abandoned as water, a couple inches deep, still washed down the mountainside and across the road toward the Pacolet River.

Sometime during the night, the water was so deep it swept away the earth and rock supporting the road, leaving a gaping cave under the asphalt.

There were several smaller slides up and down the highway between Saluda and Tryon. DOT crews had most of them cleaned up by early Saturday afternoon.

By 3 p.m. the only thing to see were piles of brush, rocks, trees and mud where crews had pushed it off the highway. In many places, the highway was still colored a dull reddish brown where mud had collected during the night.

Gray, brown clay showed many feet high in several places, where the water had snapped 100-foot tall trees and washed away large boulders, stripping the mountainside of everything but scars of mud, shimmering in the occasional flashes of sunlight. Water rushed down cliff sides and splashed cars as they drove back up the mountain toward Interstate 26. In several places, streams of water flooded across the road to rush down to the river below.

The river itself was a roaring rushing turbulent brown, tossing trees, boulders and galloons of mud toward Tryon. On Interstate 26, drivers could see remnants of where mudslides had closed the highway for a brief time Saturday morning.

In a place or two on the interstate, the water had washed away the shoulders, leaving gaping edges of broken asphalt on the edge of the highway.

Derwort and Cleland said they had been watching cars turn around in front of the yellow police tape blocking 176 all morning.

“Even the bicycles couldn’t get past the mudslide,” Derwort said.

Some residents took shelter at the Caro Mi Dining Room on U.S. 176 during the storm Friday until they could get to Polk County High School, which was turned into an emergency shelter that night.

There is no word yet as to how long it will take to clean up the large mud slide and repair 176, but it is a safe bet people will be going the long way to Saluda for a while.