Business owners in Biltmore Village share concerns after the area was completely flooded by heavy rains. Matt Burkhartt, Asheville Citizen-Times
ASHEVILLE — Rain and thunderstorms are expected to continue this week, adding to the misery unleashed on Western North Carolina as the remnants of subtropical storm Alberto on Wednesday forced evacuations, flooded roadways and pushed dams to capacity.
Parts of WNC saw as much as 7 inches of rain over a 24-hour period, leading Gov. Roy Cooper to announce he would declare a state of emergency. Some areas have seen nearly 2 feet of rain since May 15.
With 14.09 inches of rain recorded at Asheville Regional Airport, the month of May is now the wettest month on record for Asheville, according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center. The previous top mark was August 1940, with 13.75 inches.
Both the French Broad and Swanannoa rivers were slowly receding Wednesday evening. As of 8:15 p.m., the Swannanoa River at Biltmore was at 8.84 feet, according to USGS readings. It peaked at higher than 14 feet; flood stage is 10 feet. The French Broad at Asheville was at 9.26 feet; flood stage is 8 feet.
But the rain is expected to continue Thursday. The National Weather Service forecast calls for showers and thunderstorms to continue, with up to a quarter-inch possible, more during a thunderstorm.
Residents briefly evacuated after Lake Tahoma Dam warning
Thousands of people experienced power outages and some 200 people stayed in a shelter opened by the American Red Cross, the governor’s office said.
The city of Asheville warned residents late Tuesday of potential flooding after releasing water from the North Fork Reservoir outside of Black Mountain to make room for floodwater. Heavy rains refilled it in a matter of hours.
About 2,000 McDowell County residents downstream of Lake Tahoma Dam north of Marion were evacuated beginning at 1 a.m. Wednesday for fear the dam’s integrity had been compromised. The mandatory evacuation order was rescinded about nine hours later after an engineer deemed the dam safe.
Mudslide slammed into five vehicles
A mudslide between Old Fort and Black Mountain slammed into five vehicles and forced lane closures on Interstate 40. No injuries were reported. The state Department of Transportation said the lanes should be cleared by midday Friday.
Two DOT workers clearing a mudslide from Catawba River Road west of Old Fort became the subject of a rescue effort themselves.
The two were using a snowplow blade on the front of a dump truck to push debris out of the roadway when a second slide pushed it into the Catawba River, DOT spokesman David Uchiyama said.
Here’s an WNC flooding update: Cooper’s state of emergency, rivers begin to crest, 2 shelters close
The truck landed on its side in about 10 feet of water. The workers climbed out through the passenger window and stood on the side of the truck. Rescue workers with the Old Fort Fire Department tossed them a rope and life vests and pulled them to safety, Uchiyama said.
The 33,000-pound truck was found more than 1,000 feet downstream, pushed there by the force of the current, he said.
A dump truck pushed into the Catawba River by a mudslide ended up more than 1,000 feet downstream, the state Department of Transportation says.
The men were unharmed. Had they attempted to swim, "I think we would be writing a different story," Uchiyama said.
Several streams in McDowell County flooded and swift boat rescuers pulled five people to safety.
Black Mountain firefighters evacuated some 75 people Tuesday night, including residents of the Soundview Family Care Home and a mobile home park off Portmanvilla Road.
There were no reported injuries, Deputy Chief John Wilson said Wednesday.
“The creeks came up very fast,” he said. “We patrolled a lot of them an hour before (at about 9 p.m.) and they were fine.”
Flooding closes more than 40 roads
Flooding at Flat Creek in Black Mountain. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Nathan West)
Cooper’s declaration allows the state to coordinate storm response and prepare for any additional impacts. Cooper also was expected to issue a transportation waiver to expedite the movement of utility vehicles and others engaged in relief efforts.
At midday Wednesday, DOT said more than 40 roads were closed because of flooding in 10 WNC counties.
Uchiyama said it does not appear that any will be closed long-term, but that DOT was still assessing conditions.
"In some areas across Western North Carolina, it could be a week or two," he said.
Most roads in the French Broad River valley that flood frequently will reopen as soon as floodwaters recede," he said
Two state workers were clearing a small landslide in this area Tuesday night in McDowell County when a larger slide pushed them and their truck into the Catawba River.
A flash flood watch was to remain in effect for WNC through Thursday morning. There also were several flood warnings for areas by the French Broad River near Fletcher, and at Blantyre affecting Henderson and Transylvania counties.
A flood warning for the Swannanoa River at Biltmore in Buncombe County was to remain in effect until Thursday afternoon. While the river has crested and more potential heavy rain was possible Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service said the river levels should continue falling.
Flooding closed several popular parks, including Carrier Park and the Bill Moore Community Park, formerly known as Fletcher Community Park. The WNC Nature Center also closed because of flooded roads. The animals were safe, the city of Asheville said.
The French Broad River floods into the Craven Street Bridge Access Area on Wednesday, May 30, 2018.
Biltmore Estate remained open but directed visitors to alternative entrances. Its main entrance, located in flood-prone Biltmore Village, was closed due to rising water.
Blue Ridge Parkway, state parks impacted by storm
Rain caused trees to topple across the Blue Ridge Parkway, closing the roadway Wednesday from Milepost 382 near the Folk Art Center in Asheville to Milepost 355 at N.C. 80. Parkway spokeswoman Leesa Brandon said park staff are assessing potential hazard trees and removing fallen trees.
The parkway was also closed from Mileposts 305-298 while repairs continue on the Linn Cove Viaduct. Heavy rainfall also forced closure of the original detour route on a section of U.S. 221 around the viaduct due to a road washout between Linville and Blowing Rock.
The Nuwati and Cragway trails at the nearby Grandfather Mountain State Park were closed indefinitely until repairs can be made.
Mount Mitchell State Park remained open, but the main access from Asheville, the Blue Ridge Parkway, was closed up to the park’s entrance at Milepost 355.
Lake James State Park in McDowell County remained open, however the mountain bike trails and the swim beach at the Paddy’s Creek Area were closed due to flooding.
Chimney Rock State Park in Rutherford County was closed at the Chimney Rock attraction entrance after a retaining wall in its upper parking lot collapsed Saturday. The Rumbling Bald access remained open.
WNC’s dams are being watched
Cooper’s office said local and state officials are closely monitoring the dams at Lake Lure, Lake Tahoma, Lake Tuxedo and North Fork Lake and are sending state dam safety engineers to areas of concern.
Macon County officials said spillway gates were operating at the Nantahala Dam to release water because of excessive levels, but there was no problem with the dam.
More than 50 search and rescue technicians were deployed by the state overnight to assist, and a combination of swift water rescue and urban search and rescue teams from across the state were sent to McDowell, Rutherford and Jackson counties to help with potential rescues.
The American Red Cross said Wednesday afternoon that four shelters would remain open:
Swannanoa First Baptist Church, 503 E. Park St., Swannanoa.Glenwood Baptist Church, 155 Glenwood Baptist Church Rd., Marion.YMCA, 348 Grace Corpening Drive, Marion.Bill Creek Baptist Church, 1475 Bills Creek Road, Lake Lure.Polk County Middle School.
A shelter was closed in Old Fort, and another operating out of the YMCA in Marion was placed on standby after residents evacuated were allowed to return home.
People may check shelter availability and whether a shelter is open on the Red Cross Emergency App. It may be downloaded via the mobile phone app store, or text “GETEMERGENCY” to 90999.
Citizen Times and Black Mountain News staff contributed to this report.
Here are rainfall totals reported in WNC counties for a 24-hour period ending at 8 a.m Wednesday:
Asheville: 0.98 inches
Swannanoa: 2.3 inches
Black Mountain: 6.59 inches
Waynesville: 0.39 inches
Hendersonville: 4 inches
Franklin: 1.3 inches
Linville: 3.6 inches
Marion: 3.3 inches
Old Fort: 7.81 inches
Bryson City: 1.5 inches
Highlands: 6 inches
Lake Lure: 4 inches
Source: National Weather Service
NWS forecast for Asheville
Thursday: Showers and thunderstorms likely after 9 a.m. Partly sunny, with a high near 81. Chance of precipitation is 60 percent. New rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.
Thursday night: Showers and thunderstorms likely before 5 a.m., then a chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 64. Calm wind. Chance of precipitation is 60 percent. New rainfall amounts of less than a tenth of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.
Friday: A chance of showers before 8 a.m., then a chance of showers and thunderstorms between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., then showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm after 1 p.m. Partly sunny, with a high near 82. West northwest wind 3 to 7 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60 percent.
When the rivers will crest
The National Weather Service reported the following river levels Wednesday:
– Swannanoa River at Biltmore peaked Wednesday at 14 feet and was expected to greatly taper off beginning Thursday. Flood stage is 10 feet and levels between 10 and 14.5 feet are considered minor flooding.
-French Broad River at Blantyre will peak at 19 feet Thursday with moderate flooding. Flood stage is 16 feet.
-French Broad at Asheville will peak at 10 ½ feet late Wednesday through Thursday with minor flooding. Flood stage is 9.5 feet.
-French Broad near Marshall will peak at 9 feet late Wednesday. Flood stage is 8 feet.
-French Broad near Hot Springs peaked Wednesday at 6 feet. Flood stage is 9.5 feet.