As evening approaches Black Mountain officials prepare for more rain

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Black Mountain Fire Department Chief Steve Jones, is the emergency management coordinator for the Emergency Operation Center, which was set up to help coordinate the town's response to Tropical Depression Florence.


BLACK MOUNTAIN - With rain expected to continue falling throughout most of the night, emergency personnel are monitoring the impact Tropical Depression Florence has on local waterways. 

Officials say residents of the town can expect rain to fall until Monday morning. 

"We anticipate flood waters to rise," said Black Mountain Fire Chief Steve Jones from inside of the town's public safety room, where an Emergency Operations Center was activated earlier Sunday afternoon. "In fact, I just received word that the Asheville Watershed is planning to release some water."

Jones said his department talked with residents along the North Fork River, just outside of the town limits but within the Black Mountain Fire District, about the coming rise in the water level. 

"They should be ready and know to watch the water rise," Jones said. "And if they need to they can go to the shelter at the First Baptist Church in Swannanoa."

Firefighters and police evacuated a total of seven residents in the Portman Villas Mobile Home Park beginning around 3:12 p.m., as water from Flat Creek continued to rise. Those evacuated lived along the banks of the creek, which flooded when Subtropical Storm Alberto hit the area hard near the end of May.

MORE: Florence kinder to WNC than was expected

Flat Creek submerges a section of the greenway south of Portman Villas Mobile Home Park, from which five people were evacuated around 3:12 p.m.

Released water heading into the Swannanoa River

"When we say 'mandatory evacuation' we can't force people to leave their homes," he said. "But what we're telling them is conditions are to the point where we can't guarantee we can get them out safely if they call us for assistance."

Jones said the watershed released 7 feet of water in anticipation of Florence, but torrential rains throughout the day forced operators to release some this evening. That water will flow into the Swannanoa River from the North Fork River. 

"That's a normal procedure," Jones said. "That's not something we haven't dealt with before."

Water pours out of Flat Creek onto Charlotte Street, which began to fill with water around 6 p.m. on Sept. 16.

Jones made the decision to activate the town's EOC after his department received 13 calls related to heavy rainfall from midnight-3 a.m. 

"There were quite a few for trees that had fallen down and power lines going down as well," he said. 

Call volume for the police department began picking up throughout the morning. Jones, the emergency management coordinator for the town throughout the storm, said that placing himself and incident commanders — Deputy Fire Chief Jon Wilson, Police Chief Shawn Freeman, public works director Jamey Matthews and recreation and parks director Joshua Henderson — in the same room allowed the departments to communicate quickly and clearly.

Black Mountain police chief Shawn Freeman works on paper work in the Public Safety Room in between the police and fire departments. The room will serve as the base for the town's Emergency Operations Center until Tuesday.

"It helps us all know what each other is doing," he said. "When it came to evacuating the residents along Portman Villa we worked together jointly and it went smoothly."

Freeman and Jones sent personnel to warn residents about the threat of rising waters while Matthews had public works crews place barricades at the front of the park warning those entering of the dangers. Henderson transported evacuees who needed rides. 

Town staff are working 12-hour shifts with overnight personnel coming in at varying times throughout the evening. Public works crews have been responding to reports of fallen trees "all day," Jones said. 

"The ones that are not on power lines they're able to remove," he said. "The ones that are, they mark and report them to Duke Energy."

Public works director Jamey Matthews, sits at the table in the Public Safety Room as Black Mountain fire chief Steve Jones talks about the impacts of Tropical Depression Florence.

Town resources will be stretched

Jones anticipates that Florence will continue to strain the town's resources through the night. 

"If we get busier this evening as night falls then we'll be calling in people from other departments," he said. "All town staff are on standby and waiting to help take phone calls or work on paperwork in the EOC while first responders are out answering calls." 

The Black Mountain Fire Department has received three or four calls related to trees falling on homes, Jones said, and crews have responded to a structure fire as well. 

No injuries have been reported due to Florence as of 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16, but several roads are closed due to flooding or debris. 

The town was more prepared for Florence than they were for Alberto a few months back, Jones said, which has allowed for a more coordinated response. 

"The difference between this storm and the last storm is that we didn't have any warning last time," he said. "We got plenty of warning with this one and we've been prepared all week. The citizens have been prepared and that's made things go a little more smoothly."