State insurance commissioner: storm damage to Polk County is ‘unbelievable’

Published 7:02 pm Tuesday, May 22, 2018

N.C. damage assessment team to visit county, determine if FEMA assistance is necessary

TRYON — Standing on top a boulder resting front of a U.S. 176 home devastated by the flooding and mudslides that engulfed the Pacolet Valley in catastrophe Friday, North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey stood silent on Tuesday, gazing at the debris and mud strewn about what was once served as the residence’s lawn.

Causey — who was inspecting a site just a short distance away from the ruins of the house of Tryon’s Patricia Case, who lost her life after a mudslide struck the residence — surveyed the chaos along the valley, which, even after days of round the clock cleanup, is still largely unrecognizable in parts to those who call the area home. Caked mud and large pools of rainwater line portions of the roadways along the highway and other parts of the area, with fallen trees, downed power lines and deep trenches marring the front yards of homes — some of which have been damaged beyond repair.

Overlooking the scene, the state official described the damage inflicted to the formerly scenic valley as “unbelievable.”

“I’ve never witnessed this kind of damage,” Causey said. “It looks like an entire mountain has come down, with boulders thrown about and 200-year-old trees knocked down like toothpicks.”

The insurance commissioner visited the local area that afternoon to get a firsthand look at the damage inflicted to local homes following the flooding and series of mudslides that devastated portions of Polk County late last week. The North Carolina official was joined on a tour of some of the afflicted areas by other members of the state department of insurance, as well as a trio of local leaders: Polk County Manager Marche Pittman, Emergency Manager Bobby Arledge and Board of Commissioners Chairman Jake Johnson.

Causey’s visit comes just a day before members of the North Carolina Emergency Management’s damage assessment team are expected to arrive in Polk County, Pittman said. The team will survey the conditions of homes harmed by storm damage, and will report their findings to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which may in turn put the county in line for disaster assistance consideration.

According to county officials, a total of 40 homes were damaged by the flooding and mudslides, which were caused by the massive series of rainstorms that pelted the area last Friday. Officials with the National Weather Service estimate that between 4 to 8 inches rain poured into to Polk County that night, with some areas receiving between 8 to 10 inches of precipitation.

The county declared a local state of emergency on Friday, which remains in effect, Pittman said.

The county manager said that the department of insurance’s visit has come at a welcome time, as residents continue to ask for assistance on how to file insurance claims or how they can get help cleaning up their damaged property.

“We like that the state is paying attention, because that will help us receive the resources we need [for this crisis],” Pittman said.

Causey — who visits sites throughout North Carolina impacted by natural disasters — said this is the first time he can recall seeing a series of mudslides do such massive damage in the state, adding that people only typically expect to see these kinds of incidents occur in places like California or Japan.

The insurance commissioner also encouraged residents who do not have any type of flood insurance to look into getting their houses covered for such damages, which a large portion of the population does not, he said.

“Normally, people in the mountains of North Carolina don’t see a need for flood insurance,” Causey said. “As this clearly demonstrates, this type of insurance is needed no matter where you live.”

The department of insurance will remain in contact with Polk County officials, and, if needed, it will set up a local emergency center to help locals with insurance claims or assessments, officials said.

Polk County residents impacted by the storms who would like assistance with insurance concerns may call the department toll free at 855-408-1212 or may visit www.ncdoi.com.