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Tryon woman identified as victim in Friday’s mudslides

TRYON — A woman who died in a mudslide on U.S. 176 Friday night has been identified as Patricia Case, of Tryon.

A couple of mudslides occurred at the Case home, located in the 3900 block of U.S. 176, Friday night after heavy rains. Case was reportedly killed outside when she and her husband were attempting to escape. Her body was found Saturday morning.

Polk County Manager Marche Pittman said Monday that officials were going door to door along U.S. 176 to make sure residents’ homes were safe, and to see what they needed.

The American Red Cross has set up stations at the Tryon Youth Center on U.S. 176 in Tryon and at Harmon Field to offer supplies to victims, such as food, water and medication.

Upon first inspection, 27 homes suffered damage along U.S. 176, but that number is not final and officials have not yet been able to assess damage in other areas of the county that suffered damage, Pittman said.

The rains Friday caused road closures of Interstate 26 in both directions for about 6 hours, as well as U.S. 176, Holbert’s Cove and Green River Cove roads in the county.

Polk County’s 911 system was overloaded Friday night, so the county opened up its backup emergency center when the calls became a problem, Pittman said.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Pittman said of the Pacolet Valley. “I’ve been working in Polk County government for 24 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t have the words to express how enormous this is.”

Between the I-26 shutdown and rescues occurring Friday night, 911 was backed up and GPS was dumping traffic in different directions, with trucks going “right into the war zone” on U.S. 176, Pittman said.

“It was a war zone,” he said. “Every avenue west out of here was blocked in some way.”

Pittman said there were some homes completely destroyed in the valley, but he is unsure at this point how many.

“We collaborated with the Office of State Fire Marshal to help go door to door, just to do an initial, ‘is everything okay,’ and to see what kind of damage there is,” Pittman said. 

Pittman said the county is now coordinating with Henderson County, all fire departments, the sheriff’s office and officials such as the fire marshal and building inspector to check on residents and make sure their long-term needs are met.

“Not just to ask, ‘can you live here,’ but to make sure they can sustain living there,” Pittman said.

Pittman also said state geologists were in the area on Sunday, and made the county aware there is the probability if a good size rain event occurs, there will be another slide.

“We are alerting those homeowners to let them know there is that potential,” Pittman said.

Pittman said the county is still working on Holbert’s Cove and Green River Cove roads, and there was also flooding at Green River Highland, in Green Creek, but he is not yet certain how much damage was done.

There were at least 200 people working on Saturday, including agencies from Transylvania, Haywood, Buncombe, Henderson, local fire departments, rescue squads and town departments.

“It was probably one of the biggest examples of the community pulling together that I’ve ever seen,” Pittman said. “And it’s just getting started.”

Now community groups and churches are reaching out to help, he said.

It will likely be weeks before U.S. 176 is open to traffic, the manager said. Evacuees have returned to their homes.

Caro-Mi restaurant remains closed after approximately 50 employees and patrons had to spend the night Friday because they could not get out.

On Friday night, a shelter at Polk County High School housed 18 people, but Pittman is unsure how many of those were from I-26 or from local evacuations, he said. On Saturday, the shelter had 20 people, he added.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation requested a non-declared emergency provision to hire contractors immediately to assist with storm damage recovery in Polk County.

“We are doing everything possible to clean up the damage and get the highway open as soon as possible for the residents of Polk County,” said Division 14 Engineer Brian Burch, in a statement to the Bulletin. “The storms were devastating to the area, and a disruption to the daily lives of citizens.”

Early estimates for the contract of NCDOT officials hiring a contractor for cleanup, including debris removal, culvert replacements, shoulder repair and guardrail restoration, is estimated at $1.5 to $2 million.

Officials are also urging nonresidents of roads affected to avoid the areas.

To detour westbound traffic along U.S. 176, people may take Highway 108 from Tryon to I-26 in Columbus to Exit 59 and Ozone Drive back to U.S. 176. The opposite applies for eastbound traffic.