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Valley neighbors flood in to help undo Alberto's damage
The feeling of dread as subtropical storm Alberto dumped water on an already soaked Western North Carolina is something many local residents can relate to. But what happened to Black Mountain residents Dan and Carrie Maresh on May 29 is the stuff of nightmares.
As they tried to sleep that night, the Mareshes could feel Flat Creek raging outside of their Montreat Road home. So they packed up their most valuable possessions, went to Carrie’s office and returned the next morning to find their home teetering on the edge of the water. Their backyard was gone.
The couple’s experience is just one example of the devastation brought about by the floods that ravaged the Swannanoa Valley during the final days of May.
The Mareshes bought their home 10 years ago. Their .72 acres lay flat above peaceful Flat Creek. The creek was their property line.
“Our yard was really awesome to us,” Carrie said, "because you could tell that whoever lived there before us took good care of (it).”
That was a practice that Dan and Carrie were happy to continue. Just before the torrential rains began to fall, they mulched the yard and were expecting fruit on their peach tree for the first time. Dan wasn’t particularly worried as the creek, which normally sits about 10 feet below their backyard, began to swell.
But before the sun went down that Tuesday evening, “it started taking our yard away,” Dan said. The creek continued to rise, eating away their yard. It carried some of their patio furniture to the intersection of Flat Creek Road and East Street.
“You could hear and feel the rocks rolling down the creek,” Carrie said. “You could hear the bank tumbling.”
As night fell, they decided there was no choice but to leave.
“We were scared we were going to lose the house,” Carrie said. “We couldn’t stay there any longer, and we knew there was nothing we could do.”
The morning sun revealed a sight they found frightening and troubling.
“The creek was still eating away at the bank, and we had to figure out how to make it stop, rapidly," Carrie said. But the house was still there - a "huge relief," she said.
As they were assessing the damage, Al Ellis, their neighbor, drove by and asked if everything was alright, Dan said.
“He came to us on angel’s wings,” he said. “We owe him everything. Really, our entire house.”
Ellis contacted Daniel Reese, who began hauling in 24 loads of boulders and rip-rap to divert the creek. It took more than a million pounds of rock, according to Dan, but the creek was turned away at the foot of the steps leading down from the back porch.
South of the the Maresh home, on the east side of the creek along Flat Creek Road, Quentin Fox faced a similar situation. Flat Creek spilled across his property, “and it actually split off from there in three different directions,” he said.
The archery shop that Fox, 66, has at home - part of his business, Flat Creek Outfitter - was significantly damaged. “I had about four inches of mud in there,” he said June 7. “I’ve just about got it cleaned out, but I have to spray it with water and bleach this evening to get the smell out of there.”
As with the Mareshes, Fox's neighbors noticed the damage and set out to help, unbeknownst to him. Hannah Linquist's three children - Kayden, 10, Josslyn, 8, and Ava, 4, who with their mother had driven by Fox’s home daily after the flood - set up a lemonade stand. Lemonade was $2, bottled water $1. They raised $50 in two hours.
When Linquist and her children handed him the money, Fox was overcome by their generosity. Days later, depressed and still struggling, he was still moved by the gesture.
“I cried all night Saturday because it broke my heart," he said "It was like being touched by three angels. Those kids are truly special, and what they did for me was so nice.”
At the Mareshes' house that morning, their friend Kriste Little surveyed the damage with the couple.
“I just started crying,” she said. “I live on Flat Creek too, and that same thing could have happened to me.”
Little set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise $30,000 to help restore what she said was the couple’s “beautiful backyard.” By June 8 the crowdfunding effort had raised more than $5,000.
“I knew our community would respond,” said Little. “That’s just how Black Mountain people are.”
Many of them, like residents of Montreat, are frequent visitors to Montreat's Robert Lake Park, which many people call the “Montreat playground.” The setting, surrounded by rhododendrons, bisected by Flat Creek, is idyllic. But it too was badly damaged.
The park is an “integral part of the Montreat experience," said Seth Hagler, vice president for development for Montreat Conference Center, which owns the park. He sent out an email to supporters, asking them to help with the estimated $80,000-$100,000 it will cost to repair the space.
The creek "moved a lot of the rocks and features at the park,” Tanner Pickett, center spokesman, said June 6. “It took out the bridges and walkways, which was probably the most substantial piece of damage.”
The creek slammed picnic tables into trees. Debris from upstream leveled much of what was in its way.
Fixing the park, currently closed, is urgent, Pickett said - the conference center's first guests of the summer arrived last week.
“Since the summer is already here and we’ll continue to see crowds come through, we want to fix the park as soon as possible because it’s a central part of what we do,” he said. “And we want to do it right and take the time to prepare for future incidents like this.”
The community's generosity has been “great,” Pickett said.
“So many people have reached out and offered their time and their prayers,” he said. “We’ve received gifts from people from 25 different states. But as far as the numbers go, the majority of gifts have come from Montreat and Black Mountain, which is humbling to say the least.”