Ivan hammers N.C. highlands

By Thomas Wilson and Jennifer Lassiter
star staff
twilson@starhq.com; jlassiter@starhq.com

  BANNER ELK, N.C. -- Heavy rainfall inundated western North Carolina with flooding Thursday and Friday as rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Ivan created massive flooding throughout the South causing power outages and forcing evacuations in some local areas.
  The flood caused major problems for the town of Banner Elk knocking out electricity and forcing the closure of every roadway into the mountain hamlet.
  "All roads leading into and out of Banner Elk were closed at one time," Bill Cook, town manager of Banner Elk, said on Friday afternoon. "The power is out and the water pressure is low."
  State Highway 184 extending north from Banner Elk to Boone, N.C. was effectively cut in two when floodwater created a sinkhole beneath the highway forcing its closure.
  Wearing an orange poncho soaked with rain, the frazzled looking Cook said a portion of State Highway 184 north to Boone, N.C. was closed after water covered the roadway and the sinkhole was detected. Cook said public works officials were dealing with one broken 8-inch water main and keeping watch on water lines around the town possibly susceptible to damage from the deluge.
  "We've got several other reports of exposed water lines," he said.
  The highlands of Western North Carolina remained saturated just over a week after the remnants of Hurricane Frances dumped several inches of water on the region. Cook said the town expected clean-up costs associated with Ivan would far exceed the roughly $60,000 in damages incurred from torrential rainfall caused by Frances.
  Trees uprooted from the rainfall littered the narrow two-lane stretch of State Highway 194 between Elk Park, N.C., and Banner Elk forcing motorists to dodge debris and each other. The North Carolina State Police closed a portion of Highway 194 near Highlands Municipal Airport on Friday morning after floodwater covered the road. Danbury Creek floodwater threatened the Glenn Hicks Memorial Bridge on Highway 194 flooding the yards and fields of surrounding residences near Poplar Ridge.
  Clay-brown floodwater turned streams and creeks across Avery County into fast-moving currents carrying brush and debris downstream. Danbury Creek, near Elk Park, overflowed its banks sending water across Highway 194 in the Poplar Valley community.
  Chris Mackie of the Elk Park Volunteer Fire Department said firemen had evacuated at least a dozen Avery County residents between Thursday night and Friday morning. He said flooding occurred countywide with most creeks and branches overflowing their banks.
  "We've got all the fire department, police and everything else out," said Mackie. "We've got to ride it out again."
  A line of debris marked the floodwater's reach into the front yard of Highway 194 resident Kenny Lunsford.
  "This is the highest it has been since 1940," said Lunsford, who watched as Danbury Creek overflowed its banks sending water across the roadway and three feet up an embankment of his yard Friday.
  Lunsford said a three-story home near his residence had been washed away by floodwater early Friday morning.
  Elk Park fireman Dorian Blair said floodwater covered the highway earlier Friday morning sending brush and debris into several homes along the creek bank. Blair said the exterior of one home near Lunsford took the full brunt of the creek-turned-river's force.
  "It looked like you'd sandblasted everything off the house," he said.
  Avery County officials who spoke with the Star said they had heard no reports of injuries or missing persons as a result of the flooding through Friday afternoon.
  The Carter County EMS Swift Water Rescue Team (SWRT) evacuated less than 10 people in Avery County and in the Elk Mills area of Carter County. Paramedic and SWRT member John Burleson said the team activated at 3 a.m. Friday morning and spent the day hopping between Elk Mills and assisting Avery County public safety crews with evacuating citizens.
  "We pulled about four or five people out of Elk Park," Burleson said. "Mostly we just had to walk in and get them out."
  Carter County's highland areas of Elk Mills and Roan Mountain were hit by flooding mostly coming from Avery and Watauga counties in North Carolina. The American Red Cross opened shelters at Cloudland High School in Roan Mountain and Little Milligan Elementary School on Friday in preparation for possible evacuations. Cots, blankets and food were available at shelter locations.
  Nine people were evacuated from Heaton Street in Roan Mountain early Friday morning but most returned to their homes Friday afternoon. The Roan Mountain shelter reported housing no evacuees by Friday afternoon. Both shelters were closed down by Friday evening as residents were able to return home.
  "We've had power outages, trees down, roads covered with water," said Sheriff John Henson, who spent most of Friday morning patrolling around the county's trouble spots.
  Henson said a mobile home, two vehicles and a motor home were washed away in the Elk Mills area.
  Joe Thacker, general manager of Mountain Electric Co-Op, said over 15,000 of the utility's 16,700 Avery County customers lost power during the massive rainfall on Friday morning. Thacker said Friday afternoon that roughly half the county had power restored. He said the difficulty in restoring the remainder came from power crews being unable to reach outage areas due to the high water.
  Thacker said more than 1,250 utility customers in Roan Mountain lost power on Friday. Most electricity had been restored in the area by Friday afternoon. Mountain Electric provides electricity to customers in Carter and Johnson counties as well as Avery County.
  While many motorists stopped to watch the Doe River turn brown and big on Friday morning, the city of Elizabethton did not experience localized flooding or turbidity of its potable water sources as a result of the rainfall according to the city public works department.
  "Our storm system is not dumping a lot of the water into the river here," said Ted Leger, Elizabethton public works director. "Most of the rain has not been local."