Nearly one week later, footprints of devastation remain

Published 8:00 am Saturday, May 26, 2018

Residents on 176, Meadowlark describe carnage left in storm’s wake

TRYON — Footprints sunken 3 or more inches deep show where someone had to walk across a 20-foot pile of mud to escape their home on Valley View Lane.

On Highway 176, a 3-foot tall fence is literally buried in mud, and nearly a week after the torrential rains, residents are trying to save what they can from devastated homes.

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Neighbors are relating stories of heroism and terror. Last Friday night, one woman gathered her four children, one only 2-years old, and fled for their lives through the dark and the rain.

Though Department of Transportation workers and contractors have been working round the clock since Saturday, two houses on Valley View Lane are still completely blocked and the road is partially washed away. Highway 176 is still clogged with dump trucks and backhoes.

Trees and mud are piled high in yards and DOT crews are now digging ditches in hopes it will help deal with the additional rain expected over the weekend.

Overhead is the thrum of a helicopter as officials fly over the mountain assessing the devastation.

“It’s amazing how water is so powerful,” said Pam Ward, who lives on Highway 176 not far from the Tryon Youth Center.

Though Ward and her husband, Ron, were still in shock from the devastation to their own house, they spent most of Thursday helping a neighbor try to save clothing and other items from her home.

“Our house is in a lot better shape than theirs,” Ward said. “Mud came through their windows, the floors are buckled and the house appears to be knocked off its foundation. I don’t know how to describe how bad it is.”

Ward and her husband had gone to dinner Friday night, but found they could not get back to their home when they tried to return. They spent the night in a hotel, thinking the road was blocked by a burst pipe or overflowed culvert. It was not until they returned Saturday morning that they began to realize the extent of the damage.

“You hear about this happening all over the world,” she said. “You think about those poor people. You never think it will happen here.”

Both Ward and her husband described the efforts of DOT as amazing and wonderful, commenting about how they had worked day and night to open the roads so people could get to their homes.

Former Tryon resident Rob Merrell flew in from Ohio to check on his house on Meadowlark Drive. Merrell currently rents the house to the Mitchell family and hopes to return to Tryon in the near future.

“The story is the guys that showed up to help,” he said, as words nearly failed him.

Merrell described how a whole group of friends showed up and have been helping with clean up all week.

Merrell’s basement was flooded with 3 feet of water and mud. A wall of water washed into the backyard filling the patio and breaking down the door.

Cleanup contractor Andrew Holbert said 70 to 80 tons of mud washed into the backyard and through the basement.

“It washed off the mountain, pushed in one door and out the other,” Holbert said. “The water was waste deep in the house.”

“It was basically a bathtub,” Merrell said.

Cathy Brettman lives across the street from Merrell’s house. She described what it was like with water flowing across Meadowlark Drive.

“It would switch from one side to the other,” she said, then pointed to a house down the hill. “All this water went down their drive. [The water] actually split and went around their house.”

Brettman said what she remembers most about Friday night was the torrential rain and the power going out. She said the rain was pelting down so hard neighbors said they could barely get their cars up the road.

On Saturday morning, neighbors on Meadowlark Drive started coming out to check on each other. Brettman said she remembers seeing children’s toys, pingpong balls and shoes floating down the middle of the street.

As people begin to dig out and salvage what they can, homeowners are asking about help from insurance companies and the state. The Red Cross had set up stations at Harmon Field and the Tryon Youth Center to hand out supplies, food and water.

On Friday and Saturday, agencies set up a resource center in the Tryon Elementary School Gym, located at 100 School Place.