‘Not something you forget’: Waitress at Caro-Mi recalls night of the tragic 2018 mudslide

Published 12:37 pm Friday, May 20, 2022

Wednesday marked the 4th anniversary of the natural disaster

 

TRYON––Four years ago Wednesday, the tragic mudslide that occurred on Hwy. 176 in Pacolet Valley took the life of a Tryon resident and swept over numerous homes, also trapping customers inside a restaurant. 

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This week, the Tryon Daily Bulletin is remembering the catastrophe, and shares the story of a Caro-Mi waitress who was trapped during the night of the mudslide.

On May 18, 2018, Subtropical Storm Alberto produced a heavy rainstorm overnight which caused a massive mudslide in Pacolet Valley and took the life of Patricia Case. The mudslide trapped Case at her home, resulting in her death despite heroic efforts from authorities to desperately try to save her.

The tragic event also took the lives of two WYFF News reporters, Mike McCormick and Aaron Smeltzer, when an accident occured three days after the mudslide. While reporting on the catastrophe on Hwy. 176, a tree fell on their SUV.

The 3-foot diameter tree was said to be loosened by the saturated ground due to the heavy rain and mud. Both men died instantly.

 
The Friday night that the mudslide occured, Caro-Mi Dining Room on Hwy. 176 was surrounded by mud, trapping workers and customers inside until Saturday morning.

Now four years later, Caro-Mi waitress Mira Padgett talks about the chaos she and others endured while being trapped inside all night during the mudslide.

 

She says, “We were working and knew it was raining like crazy, but we had zero idea there was a mudslide. People were coming back from leaving and saying the bridge down the road was out, and the roads were flooded.”


Padgett says that as the night unfolded, the power went off inside the restaurant.

 
Caro-Mi Dining Room sits on the edge of a river, and on the opposite side of the river is Hwy. 176. The river also separates the restaurant from the guest parking lot, so there is a bridge that crosses over the river. Padgett says she looked out the window and noticed that the small bridge was still fine.

 
“We were afraid that a flood was going to come our way, so everyone moved their vehicles across the river [from behind the restaurant where workers parked] to the other side of the river [where customers parked along 176],” she says.

Padgett says that after hours of sitting in the Caro-Mi without power, water, or cell service, they finally realized a mudslide had taken place just outside.

 
There were children and an infant in the restaurant at the time. “Some were crying, all were panicked,” she says. “We didn’t know what to do. It was the scrambling of ‘how can I get to my family.’”

Padgett, sitting in her car in the parking lot, says she kept seeing a faint light in the dark distance.

“It would get closer and go further away, and get closer and go further away.”

Nick, Padgett’s son-in-law, and Avery, her daughter, were both present in the parking lot when Padgett noticed the distant light.

“I wanted to go try to find that light,” she says. “There was obviously a way we could get there. So we took off on foot.”

Nick, she says, warned her not to go, because all they had to work with were the lights from their cell phones.

“There were huge rocks, so Nick and I were climbing over rocks and mud, and I made it a little ways, then there was something big and red in the road,” Padgett says. Climbing over the large lump in the road, Padgett slipped and sank waist-deep into the mud. She says if her son-in-law hadn’t been there to catch her, she would have kept sinking and would’ve been stuck in the mud.

“I can still smell it,” she says. “And I can still hear the noise of the mudslide rolling down the mountain. That’s not something you forget.”

At that point, soaked in mud, Padgett, Nick, and her daughter went back inside the Caro-Mi where Padgett changed clothes.

“After several more hours,” she says, “the light kept coming and going in the distance, and then it faded away.”

With no cell service and the customers inside panicked, Padgett says one man out in the parking lot began shouting that he found spotty cell service around 5 a.m. Padgett immediately called her husband to inform him that she and their daughter were fine.

Padgett’s husband and parents had already called the Columbus Police Department to send someone to find them at the restaurant.

Early that Saturday morning, Padgett says two men from the police department scrambled through the mud to come rescue everyone trapped inside Caro-Mi. Responders took loads of people at a time to the Triangle Stop gas station up the road, and Padgett and other workers were freed and back with her family around 1 p.m. that Saturday.

During 2018, James “Tank” Waters was the current Tryon Fire Department Chief. Padgett says tearfully, “Days later, I spoke to Tank.”

The faded light in the distance that Padgett had seen throughout the night had been Chief Tank and Tryon Fire Department trying to reach the Caro-Mi all night.

Padgett says that four years ago on that tragic night, she spent those dark hours in prayer with Isaiah 41:13 in mind: “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

Tryon Daily Bulletin remembers and empathizes with the families who lost loved ones during the natural disaster that took place May 18, 2018.