A year later
Pacolet Valley couple wonders where repairs are a year after mudslides
TRYON—What seemed like a normal day on Friday, May 18, 2018, ended in one of the most tragic weather events in Polk County history when mudslides took the life of one and destroyed many homes and properties in the Pacolet Valley of Tryon.
Heavy rains like no one in Polk County had ever seen came that Friday night and caused several mudslides on the mountains above the valley. Roads were shut down all over the county, rescues began occurring from mudslides and flooding and for several hours, some residents were trapped in the valley.
Pam and Ron Ward live directly across the deadly mudslide and were out to eat in Tryon when the rains came and the mudslides occurred. They say they realize how fortunate they really are, but after a year, are questioning why needed repairs have still not been made.
Ron Ward said they ended up staying with a cousin that night and when he was able to get back to his house the next morning, he watched people climb on mountains of mud. Ron Ward also helped his neighbor look for his neighbor’s wife, who was later found deceased.
“Ron came back to my cousins’ five hours later and he said, ‘it’s bad. It’s real bad,’” Pam Ward said.
Ron Ward said mud washed on their porch and packed up on their front door. He said he’s personally spent about $30,000 to fix the damages, as insurance was not much help.
Now, they are wondering why issues have not been fixed a year later, particularly a drainage issue that causes flooding along U.S. 176 when it rains. And with flooding there now, comes fear. The Wards say people are scared to drive in the valley when it rains now, and rightfully so.
“Other than the Baptist Ministry, there hasn’t been a sole to help us,” Ron Ward said. “They cleaned up our porch. They had 8 or 10 guys out here. It was stinky and buggy. I can’t believe we are this far.”
He said the rains and slides changed the contour of the mountain, but the state has not changed the drainage of the road, so the water just comes over to his yard.
Polk County Commissioners heard from several residents earlier this year about their need for help with the cleanup, including the Wards. Commissioners went to visit properties the next day. And the North Carolina Department of Transportation has been in contact with residents and visited the area over the course of the last year.
NCDOT spokesman David Uchiyama said they have been in contact with the Wards as recent as this week.
He said over the last year, engineers have come from Raleigh on several occasions to address the situation.
“We have expressed to Mr. Ward and other residents in the area what NCDOT is able to do per state law,” Uchiyama said. “We continue to examine the potential for new drainage solutions in the Pacolet Valley and all through Polk County.”
Uchiyama explained that the May 18, 2018 storm shifted the way and location water flows down the mountain.
“NCDOT has spent $6.6 million on repairs associated to storm damage, not including repairs to Howard Gap Road,” Uchiyama said.
The state is also dealing with mudslide damage in other areas and Howard Gap Road caving in. Howard Gap has been closed all year and some of last year because of the damage from the storms.
Ron Ward said nobody wants to alienate anyone in the community, “but come on, it’s time.”
The Wards have owned their property for about 15 years and purchased the cabin next door after the storm, which was heavily damaged from the mudslides and was knocked off its foundation.
Pam Ward said she came home on Good Friday and it rained so hard their hot tub cover was washed down the river and she was afraid to stay at home. When it rains now U.S. 176 in front of their house completely floods and there is also a part of U.S. 176 near the Ward’s house where the asphalt is washing away.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners meets Monday at 7 p.m. on the second floor of the Womack building in Columbus. Some residents plan to attend to further discuss the needs from the damage with commissioners.