Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
Just a short drive from Franklin, folks in Haywood County are continuing to pick up the pieces after a devastating flood saturated the town last week as a result of Tropical Storm Fred.
Parts of Western North Carolina received more than 10 inches from Sunday through Wednesday, the National Weather Service said. Rain exceeded five inches from Monday evening to Tuesday evening alone in the Haywood County community of Canton, swelling the Pigeon River to more than nine feet above flood stage and the highest level since 2004.
The death toll rose to five on Sunday afternoon when the fifth victim, Frank Lauer Sr., 74, of Cruso, was identified. The others confirmed dead as a result of the storm are Frank Mungo, 86, Franklin McKenzie, 68, Judy Mason, 73, Charlene Mungo, 83, all of Cruso.
Flooding and washouts have done significant damage to county roads — especially around the community of Cruso — with 10 to 15 bridges damaged or destroyed, the county emergency services department said.
From the moment that news broke of the damage to Haywood County, communities across Western North Carolina stepped up to help. First responders from neighboring agencies travelled to Haywood County to assist in search and rescue missions, local churches and fire departments collected needed supplies, and agencies set up makeshift shelters at local high schools.
Congressional leaders Rep. Madison Cawthorn and Sen. Thom Tillis toured the devastation as did Gov. Roy Cooper — all eager to complete a damage assessment in hopes of gaining assistance from FEMA. Senator Kevin Corbin and Rep. Karl Gillespie put out a call for help for surrounding counties for supplies — and the Macon County community spring into action.
The Franklin Police Department and Franklin Fire Department began collecting needed supplies such as cleaning materials and water the day after the flood. A group of Macon County farmers even reached into their own supplies to collect desperately needed hay for livestock in Haywood County.
A group of Macon County residents lead by Kevin McCall, Mike Gibson, and Ben Vanhook organized a donation drive that promised to match monetary donations after reaching $5,000. According to Vanhook, the group had hopes of raising $10,000. But by Tuesday morning, the donations were just shy of $50,000 for families in need in Haywood County.
Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers said that while supplies are still desperately needed, he wanted the public to know that Haywood County is still open for business.
“Many people continue to ask me what can they do to help. Obviously the donation of supplies and resources needs to continue especially in the Cruso, Bethel, and Old Asheville Highway areas. However, I have an additional request…shop local,” said Smathers. “Canton is not closed. Yes, our river district businesses have tremendous damage, but the majority of other businesses are open and would love to see you. Also the ones open are finding ways to support the businesses, homes, and neighbors who have lost so much. Be mindful and patient that some roads and resources are restricted in Papertown, but for the most part, we are ready to see and serve you. Thank you again for your prayers, cooperation, and support.”