How Black Mountain, Swannanoa coped with storm Alberto

Paul Clark
Asheville Citizen Times

At least until the next big storm, Valley residents won’t forget about subtropical storm Alberto.

The threat of even a shower since last week made residents nervous about saturated ground and soggy hillsides, some of which held trees overhanging their houses and cars. Last week’s soaking storms and flooding creeks had residents longing for a long hot spell to dry out yards and parks.

Though Black Mountain Home for Children sits on high ground, it is just up the hill from the intersection of Lake Eden Road and Old U.S. 70 — “a spot where the culvert often overflows,” said Sarah Thomas, the home’s vice president for finance and development.

“As we watched the water climb higher and rush faster on Tuesday (May 29), we had a few tense moments wondering if staff would be able to get home,” he said. “But soon a backhoe arrived, and we were rescued. Then, on Wednesday, with the kids out of school we were reminded that even in the worst storms there’s joy to be had so long as there are puddles to jump in. I may have taken my shoes off for a moment.”

Van Burnette’s 800-foot driveway washed away, and the irrigation system at his Hop’n Blueberry Farm in Black Mountain collapsed. Four days after the rains, “I am still working to get things back to normal,” he said.

Elaine Loutzenheiser had to replace more than half of her driveway “for a small fortune,” she said. “But, hey, it could have been lots worse. I’m not cleaning mud out of my house like too many had to do.”

Last week was, in a word, hairy. County emergency officials told town officials that the east end of Buncombe County sustained the worst of the rain damage. Firefighters on May 29 evacuated 75 people around Flat Creek after eight residents earlier in the day were ordered to leave their homes on Portmanvilla Road, Bell Street, Charges Court and Carefree Lane.

Residents from Flat Creek Road, Alpine Shadow Lane and Armory Drive were evacuated about 10 p.m. May 29, said John Wilson, deputy chief of the Black Mountain Fire Department. Around 20 residents of Soundview Family Care on Center Avenue were moved as well. There were no reports of injuries related to the floods. Some residents were evacuated with boats, Wilson said.

“The rains came up fast,” he said. “We had patrolled a lot the creeks an hour before the evacuation and everything seemed fine.”

The Burnett Reservoir that supplies Asheville with much of its water received more than five inches of rain on May 29 and 30, bringing the dam to capacity and requiring a release of water on May 31. In anticipation of the storm, the North Fork Water Treatment Plant at the reservoir had released water so that it could accommodate runoff from the heavy rains. During the storm, four times as much water flowed into the reservoir than usual. That brought the dam to capacity and required the additional release of water, according to Leslie Carreiro, water production manager of Asheville’s water resources department.

By May 30, floodwaters had driven 51 people to an emergency shelter at First Baptist Church in Swannanoa, Black Mountain town officials have said. Cherry Street in downtown Black Mountain sustained water damage, town officials said. Residents reported road closures, high water and/or mudslides on several streets in Black Mountain, including Allen Mountain Road and Blue Ridge Road and Suwanee and Texas roads in Montreat. In Black Mountain, the baseball and softball fields in Veterans Park were covered by at least a foot of standing water after the Swannanoa River crested its bank along the disc golf course.

The dam at Lake Susan in Montreat appeared to be fine on May 30, said Tanner Pickett, spokesman for the Montreat Conference Center, which owns the lake. But Flat Creek had laid waste to Robert Lake Park in Montreat, he said. Just one week before the conference center’s summer season begins, flooding at Flat Creek had destroyed one park bridge, made a second bridge impassable, washed several picnic tables away and undermined a concrete sidewalk – all after the center had spruced up the park for the summer season, Pickett said.

“The park is closed to the public, and it’s likely that it will stay that way a while while we assess damage and determine what needs to happen, he said. Additionally in Montreat, Calvin Trail to Montreat Campground was impassable.

Montreat has had several mudslides along Suwannee Drive, town clerk Angie Murphy said. Several roads were inaccessible on May 30, and as of 10:30 a.m., the town had already cleared downed tree and clogged storm drains to help residents get out of their driveways, she said.

On May 31, Roger Hibbard went for a bike ride and was “astonished” by the damage, he said. “No one was left untouched,” he said. “Pools of water and rushing streams were everywhere. … An extended period of dry weather would be a welcome relief.”

The storm wasn’t too bad for local illustrator and author Jerry Pope. “All in all, it was a minor inconvenience,” he said. He said he spent time “cozying up with a book by the wet-vac.”

Mayor Don Collins began surveying the damage in Black Mountain with public services director Jamey Matthews on May 29. The town’s first priority was safety, Collins said May 30. “Our police, fire and public services departments did a great job out there,” he said. “They were on the spot, and I’m thankful we have them.”

Town employees concentrated on keeping roads and bridges clear. The baseball and softball fields at Veterans Park will need to be repaired, Collins said. But this is not the first time the town has experienced flooding, the Black Mountain native said.

“I’ve probably seen this about half a dozen times,” Collins said.

Fred McCormick contributed to this report.