Alberto's wrath kills 4, closes highways in NC due to floods, mudslides, fallen trees

Rains leave a wreck in their wake

After two weeks of sometimes torrential rains western North Carolina towns like Edneyville have been left to pick up the pieces and to rebuild their lives.
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After two weeks of sometimes torrential rains western North Carolina towns like Edneyville have been left to pick up the pieces and to rebuild their lives.

Four North Carolina deaths are now being attributed to the Subtropical Storm Alberto and more than 50 roads in western N.C. counties were closed Thursday because of flooding, mudslides and fallen trees.

The deaths include two people who died Wednesday when a mudslide and suspected gas explosion combined to cause a home to collapse near Boone, and a TV anchorman and photojournalist were killed Monday when their vehicle was struck by a tree near Tryon, N.C.

A fifth person, a woman, died last week during a mudslide in Tryon, but North Carolina Emergency Management says that death is not related to rains brought to the Carolinas by Subtropical Storm Alberto.

More showers and thunderstorms, including heavy downpours, are possible again Thursday and Friday, suggesting matters could get worse, according to the National Weather Service.

Gov. Roy Cooper traveled to affected areas Thursday afternoon to survey the damage in Rutherford, Polk and McDowell counties.

Cooper noted the progress first responders have made in clearing roads and restoring power to residents in the region. By Thursday afternoon, 1,000 people in western North Carolina were still in need of power, he said, down from 6,000.

Once the rains have passed, officials will survey affected areas to assess damages, and assist residents in seeing if they're eligible for federal assistance, he said.

Cooper called on residents to continue to listen to weather alerts and avoid driving on flooded roads. State officials warned motorists that water on standing roads might mask damaged or washed out pavement.

"It only takes a little bit of water to sweep a car away, so we ask you to turn around," Cooper said.

Among the major highways affected by flooding and mudslides: US 221 in Avery County, US 176 in Polk County, US 64 and 74 in Rutherford County.

One lane of Interstate 40 at Exit 66 also remained closed early Thursday near Asheville, due to a mudslide. It was expected to reopen around 1 p.m.

The N.C. Department of Transportation drone footage shows the mudslides that forced the partial closure of I-40 east of Asheville in McDowell County, Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, May 30, 2018.

McDowell County Emergency Management reported early Thursday that segments of US 221 and US 226 through that county have reopened, but NC 226A remains closed due to one of the mudslides.

Several rescues have been reported due to the flooding and mudslides.

Two people were killed when a mudslide destrolyed a house in the Heavenly Mountain community in Boone, NC. Heavy rains in the area over the past two weeks have caused mudslides and flooding.

TV station WSOC is reporting three men had to be rescued Wednesday night from the Johns River in Morganton, after their kayaks capsized. The three men were found by emergency crews near the Huffman Bridge access area, the station reported.

Two NCDOT workers had to be rescued late Tuesday in McDowell County after their dump truck was pushed into the Catawba River by a mudslide, reported NCDOT.

And two other people were rescued from a vehicle after mud slid across Interstate 40 at 10 p.m. Tuesday in McDowell County, reported TV station ABC-11.

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Driver Lee Ribley told ABC-11 that emergency workers linked arms and pulled him and and his fiancee out of their car after it was surrounded by waist-deep mud.

"There was a very loud sound, like a freight train," Ribley told ABC-11. "Everything in front of us was just big, turning mud. There were big trees being pulled down into it and trees go through it and boulders."

A flash flood watch remained in effect for western North Carolina through Friday morning, with the potential for additional landslides, said North Carolina Emergency Management.

As of 4 a.m. Thursday, the 48 hour rainfall accumulations were 4 to 8 inches over the headwaters of the Catawba River, Johns River and their tributaries, officials said.

Several lakes in Western N.C. are "well above full pool," including the Lake James, Lake Rhodhiss, Lake Hickory and Lookout Shoals Lake, said McDowell County Emergency Management.

Residents around Lookout Shoals Lake near Carpenter's Cove were told Thursday to pay close attention to alerts, as water approaches residential yards and structures.

Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs