Davin Eldridge – Contributing Writer
While the toll that subtropical storm Alberto’s taken on the U.S has yet to be entirely seen, its impact in Western North Carolina remains ongoing due to continued predictions of additional rain.
The storm’s already claimed the lives of two television reporters in Polk County on Monday, downed countless trees, caused thousands of power outages and caused at least one car in Nantahala to slide into a lake. However, the storm’s wrath could’ve been a lot worse, said Emergency Services Director Warren Cabe.
“It’s been minimal at the moment,” said Cabe on Tuesday. “So far there hasn’t been any recorded injuries related to the storm.”
In a public statement, Cabe announced earlier that morning that the storm’s light to moderate rainfall has affected the county, causing some damage.
“Bands of rain in advance of sub-tropical storm Alberto will begin impacting our area early tomorrow and could last into Wednesday,” he said in a statement. “No lengthy rain-free periods are forecast for the next seven to ten days for our region.”
Cabe warned any county residents living in flood prone areas to “be prepared for isolated flooding events,” and advised the public against driving through flooded roadways, also confirmed some of the destruction caused by Alberto.
“Rain soaked soils have caused numerous trees to fall in some cases, causing minor traffic interruptions. Waterways are beginning to swell and our area will remain under a flash flood watch until at least Thursday morning.”
The announcement was a continuation of Cabe’s efforts to prepare the county for Alberto. His first statement, made on Sunday, indicated early damage.
“Roads in Macon County, particularly in the Highlands and Otto areas, have already been impacted by isolated slope failures, culvert failures, and fallen trees.”
In the Nantahala are, Junaluska Road near the Appletree Campground, River Road and Wayah Road in Nantahala were closed on Wednesday due to high water.
One of the slope failures—considered “moderate” by emergency workers–was located along Walkingstick Road, in Highlands, and a slope failure on Buck Creek Wednesday morning that temporarily blocked one lane. According to administrators, Walkingstick Road was already passable by Memorial Day, after the Department of Transportation spent all of Sunday making repairs.
A major culvert failure occurred on Mulberry Road, in Otto, which appears to be among the most destructive reported in the county.
“It’s isolated nine homes,” said Cabe of the incident, which was on a private road. “At the moment they don’t even have foot traffic access, because of the topography of the area. We’ve been working with those folks to see how they’re holding up.”
The failed culvert has since been replaced and the road repaired.
Beyond those incidents, Cabe indicated the county’s received numerous reports of downed trees, but no other significant damage. But as Alberto’s showers continued to shift from light to moderate on Tuesday, he said he anticipated “more of the same over the next 48 hours, at least,” adding that Macon County is technically in a flood watch until Sunday.
“We want everyone to pay attention to the weather and the news and be cautious,” he said. “So far, things haven’t gotten any worse, and so far everyone’s been mindful of the storm. But our conditions are fairly good for slope failures.”
According to Donna Clausen, of Andy’s Trout Farm Road, the storm hit her home, located at the border of Georgia, “pretty good.” Even after getting plenty of warning, and despite ample preparation—the storm still put them at a loss.
“It totally washed out my garden,” she said, adding that her yard was submerged in two inches of rain. “The water was going under my camper. I was out till 2 a.m. with a shovel trying to reroute the river down the mountain.”
Alberto was downsized to a tropical depression on Monday night, Memorial Day, Nevertheless, its economic impacts are expected to near the billion dollar mark, according to Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler at the Georgia-based Enki Research. On Sunday, Watson indicated that while the Deep South is by far expected to get the worst of the storm, flooding in the areas in and around Appalachia could help augment Alberto’s overall financial impact.
“…Our models are currently estimating the economic impact of Alberto to be somewhere around $700 to $800 million,” he wrote. “Insurance based estimates of the cost of Alberto will undoubtably be small. With high deductibles, most of the impact due to lost revenues or flood damage, the insurance industry share will certainly be less than 10 percent. NFIP [National Flood Insurance Program] will get a bit more, but the vast majority of the impacts will be to small businesses that took a hit in the form of decreased income over the holiday weekend.”
As of Wednesday, Duke Energy reported there were roughly 40 power outages located throughout Macon County – mostly in Nantahala and Wayah. Well over 5,000 outages were reported throughout the area. Predictions provided to county services throughout Western North Carolina by the NWS suggest Macon County will receive around a quarter inch of rain through June 2 – some of the least precipitation in the region, outside of Transylvania County.