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57 homes damaged from recent storms, slides

Polk County Library hosting disaster recovery center on Saturday

COLUMBUS — Recent heavy rains — more than 23 inches since May 15 — have caused damage to 57 homes, five of which were completely destroyed.

Polk County Emergency Management Director Bobby Arledge gave a mudslide and flooding update to Polk County commissioners during a meeting Monday.

Of the 57 homes touched by the  recent disaster, five were completely destroyed, six had major damage, 12 had minor damage and at least 29 others were affected, Arledge said.

(Photo courtesy of Polk County)

“There’s probably going to be more coming up,” Arledge said. “As of right now, we are still not declared a federal disaster. We are under a state emergency and local, but nothing from federal yet.”

A disaster recovery center has been set up for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Polk County Library in Columbus. The American Red Cross, the North Carolina Baptist Men’s Disaster Relief Ministry, as well as local and state agencies will be present to offer support and assistance for anyone in need.

Arledge told commissioners that officials have reopened all roads that were closed due to the calamity, except for Howard Gap Road from the top of Indian Mountain to 1901 Howard Gap Road. U.S. 176 and Holbert Cove and Green River Cove roads have been completely reopened.

Arledge said there has been a tremendous outpouring of support for the county from state and local agencies, nonprofits and residents offering to help.

“We’ve had over 23 inches of rain since May 15,” Arledge said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had that amount of rain that I can remember. That’s what has caused these slides.”

There were three people killed because of the storms. Patricia Case was killed on May 18 in a mudslide at her home on U.S. 176 in Tryon. On May 28, WYFF journalists Mike McCormick and Aaron Smeltzer were killed when a tree fell on their vehicle on U.S. 176.

Arledge said there were a couple of water rescues during the events: one at Green River Highlands and another on Interstate 26.

“Never in my life have I seen a boat on I-26,” Arledge said. “That was on [May] 18.”

Arledge also said the North Carolina Baptist Men are in the county, where they are helping clean up 130 properties. People who need assistance from the agency for their home will need to sign up.

The North Carolina Baptist Men are helping people with yard debris and cleaning out houses with any mud. Another organization, Team Rubicon, from the eastern part of the state, has also arrived for similar help to residents.

Arledge said Gov. Roy Cooper visited last week, and said the North Carolina Department of Transportation will pick up debris from the road. Congressman Patrick McHenry has also visited.

“Thanks for all you’ve done,” said Commissioner Ray Gasperson. “Everyone. It’s been phenomenal.”

Gasperson asked about the Interstate 26 damage. Arledge said there is a culvert there.

“There’s a lot of work to be done before we ever recover from this one,” Arledge said.

Polk County Manager Marche Pittman spoke of the damage along U.S. 176 in Tryon.

“Getting out from under this is going to be much more complex than people realize,” Pittman said.

Commissioner Chair Jake Johnson said when he was in Raleigh recently, everybody knew what happened in Polk County and how it was handled.

“You represented the county very well,” Johnson told Arledge.

Saturday’s recovery center is for anyone affected by the flooding or slides. Pittman said several agencies and nonprofits will be on hand to answer questions or offer help, including county officials, the Baptist Men, Vaya Health, American Red Cross, Rubicon and NCDOT.

“We know this whole thing has impacted folks with land and value, but we also know it’s impacted them mentally,” Pittman said. “Somebody will be there to explain the process and what we’re waiting on with FEMA.”