Updated: Eastern Buncombe County officials prepared as Florence approaches

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News


9:30 a.m. - Rain intensifies around Black Mountain as the impacts of Tropical Depression Florence begin to impact the area.

10:15 a.m. - Town officials close a section of West College Avenue as a tree falls on power lines on the east side of the residential street. 

Black Mountain crews block a portion of West College Avenue as a tree rests on power lines on the east side of the residential street on Sept. 16, as Tropical Depression Florence makes its way to the area.

10:32 a.m. - A tree falls across a stretch of North Fork Road between North Fork Left Fork and Ravenswood Acres. 

A fallen tree blocks North Fork Road in Black Mountain as Tropical Depression Florence brings heavy rains and winds to the area on Sept. 16.

11:07 a.m. - Black Mountain Police dispatch reports multiple calls regarding fallen trees and power lines down. Department encourages people not to be on the roads unless necessary. 

11:27 a.m. - Black Mountain police chief Shawn Freeman says the town will open its Emergency Operation Center to help handle an increasing number of calls to the department around 1 p.m. 

12:16 p.m. - The National Weather Service in Greenville-Spartanburg issues a Flash Flood Warning for Eastern Buncombe County. The warning is set to remain in effect until 5:15 p.m. Sunday. 

3:12 p.m. - The Town of Black Mountain orders the evacuation of five residents who live near Flat Creek the Portman Villas Mobile Home Park on Portman Villa Road. Police chief said more evacuations could come as waterways begin to overflow.  

A large section of a tree falls in the parking lot in front of the Red House Studios and Gallery adjacent to the Monte Vista Hotel in Black Mountain around 11:40 a.m. on Sept. 16.

Residents of Buncombe County awoke on Sunday morning to a steady rain that had been falling throughout much of the night.

Conditions would worsen throughout the day as Florence, which was downgraded to a tropical depression at 5 a.m. on Sept. 16, crept across the region after pummeling much of the Carolinas.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch, which advises residents that conditions had the potential to produce flooding in the area, for much of Western North Carolina. Those concerns are particularly relevant on the eastern side of Buncombe County, which forecasts anticipate will see heavier rain and stronger winds than other parts of the county.

Flat Creek, which flooded at the end of May, begins to rise on Sept. 16 as rain from Tropical Depression Florence comes into the area. Heavier rains were expected throughout the day.

According to the NWS, the Swannanoa River at Veterans Park measured a water level of just under 6 feet on the morning of Sept. 16. Flood stage for that river is 10 feet.

The flood watch will remain in effect through Monday, Sept. 17. 

The county adopted a state of emergency on Sept. 13, in anticipation of the incoming storm. That declaration went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 14 and remains through Thursday, Sept. 20. The Town of Black Mountain was one of the municipalities included the declaration.

Black Mountain officials began preparing for the storm early in the week before it made landfall on Wrightsville Beach on Sept. 14 as a massive Category 1 hurricane.  

Fire chief Steve Jones was designated the emergency incident commander by interim town manager Ron Moore on Sept. 12. Moore left to prepare his home in Bath for the storm.

In a statement on Sept. 12, Jones said he was “confident that our staff will handle this storm as they have any other storm.” He cited Black Mountain police chief Shawn Freeman’s experience with hurricanes in his seven years at the department in Bald Head Island as an advantage for the town.

Freeman tracked the storm throughout the week, and expressed his concerns that it could lead to flooding and fallen trees. Power outages were possible for area residents, he said.

Public works crews drained Lake Tomahawk throughout the week to prepare for the arrival of Tropical Storm Florence on Sept. 15.

“Basically, if you experienced flooding at your home in May, then you should seek higher ground as this storm approaches,” he said Thursday. “This will be a weather event with heavy rain.”

Areas like the ones along Flat Creek, which were impacted by flooding in May that forced residents to evacuate, could see similar conditions as a result of Florence. 

The departments prepared for the possibility of heavy call volume on Sunday by organizing an Emergency Operations Center in the police department that could be activated if the town became inundated with calls for service.

N.C. Urban Search and Rescue teams were stationed at the Black Mountain Fire Station 4-2 in the event swift water responses became necessary.

Water begins to collect inside Lake Tomahawk on the morning of Sept. 16, as Tropical Depression Florence makes its way toward the area. The lake had been drained earlier in the week by the Town of Black Mountain.

Swannanoa Fire chief Anthony Penland said he had been in touch with Buncombe County Emergency Management officials through conference calls since Friday. He had another phone call scheduled with the agency later in the day on Sunday.

“There is a plan in place if flooding becomes an issue,” he said just after 9 a.m. “Currently, we are not having an issue in Swannanoa.”

Black Mountain’s public works department lowered the water in Lake Tomahawk throughout the week, according to director Jamey Matthews. By Sept. 15, the lake was nearly empty. Matthews said in a statement that water had been released from the Asheville Watershed by the City of Asheville as well.

Lake Susan was nearly emptied by the Mountain Retreat Association in the days leading up to the arrival of Florence too.

Montreat's Lake Susan sits nearly empty on Sept. 15 as Tropical Storm Florence approaches the Swannanoa Valley.

Matthews said his department had been briefed and prepared for the storm.

“We will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds,” Matthews said.

Town clerk Angela Reece said in a statement that all town staff were on standby in the event they were needed to assist with operations at the police or fire departments.

This story will be updated throughout the day.