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One year later, Laurel Bank Campground is slowly being cleaned up

LaurelBank_August9_2022.jpg
Lilly Knoepp
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One year later much of the debris from the storm was recently picked up at Laurel Bank Campground. Picture was taken August 9, 2022.

One of the hardest hit areas when Tropical Storm Fred hit Western North Carolina was Laurel Bank Campground in Haywood County. Four campers were killed in the flood. BPR went back to the campground to see where it stands one year later.

Sherrie Lynn McArthur still spends most of her days on a golf cart getting around the campground but now there are piles of debris where there used to be campers. She’s the owner of Laurel Bank Campground

“It's amazing that a year has gone by. Sometimes it seems like it's been longer than a year. And then sometimes it seems like it was just a week ago,” said McArthur.

BPR visited one week before the anniversary of the flood as trucks were picking up some of the last piles of debris. The project took weeks.

LaurelBank_2_August9_2022.jpg
Lilly Knoepp
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A truck is getting ready to pick up one of the last piles of debris.

“I don’t know how many truckloads they have taken,” said McArthur. “They started at the other end of the campground. Now they are down to the last pile.”

There’s been red tape in getting the debris removed. There are still about 10 waterlogged campers on the property. McArthur says that the state can’t remove structures that are still standing.

Snakes, bees and rats had taken up residence in the large piles of mangled metal, broken wood and personal belongings. Now they are all gone.

“Most all of it is picked up and gone. It was even sad seeing it taken off. The piles and the couches and the curtains and just things that you could recognize that were going to the dump - people's personal stuff,” said McArthur.

The process for getting the debris removed was more complicated because the campground is private property.

Bryant Morehead is Haywood County Manager.

“The damage was such that we think it was beyond any individual or any family to clear it up. FEMA denied that twice,” said Morehead.

LaurelBank_1_August9_2022.jpg
Lilly Knoepp
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Some of the campers are still standing after the flood but they are uninhabitable.

Morehead estimates there were between 12,000 and 20,000 cubic yards of debris at the 10-acre campground.

While there first two FEMA applications were denied. Morehead says the county has been working with state and federal officials to get the campground cleaned up because it was a public health concern.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that the state gave additional funding for unmet needs across the storm’s impacted counties. Some of that money was used for the clean-up.

In public areas, debris started to be picked up nine days after the storm. Morehead estimates that overall, the county spent about $4 million dealing with the impact of the storm from shelters, debris cleanup, and transitional housing.

“We can say please be patient but at some point you just want it fixed so that you can go back to your life,” said Morehead.

Morehead says the county’s fund balance allowed them to be able to help folks quickly while they waited for state and federal money to come in.

Family, community members and many others have helped Laurel Bank clean up as much as they could.

SherrieMcArthurLaurelBank_August9_2022.jpg
Lilly Knoepp
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Sherrie Lynn McArthur sits on the front porch of her now-renovated home with Hadley, one of her cats.

Bill Martin is the coordinator of Baptists on Mission in Haywood County. The Christian non-profit organization has been rebuilding and renovating homes in after the flood – including McArthur’s. McArthur lived in the middle of the campground in an A-frame for almost 20 years. The house was extremely damaged by the flood.

“When the river flooded it put so much pressure on the foundation that it cracked so we had to repair the foundation,” said Martin.

Martin estimates it cost about $35,000 to fix her home. Martin is a retired contractor and inspector. He lives in Forsyth County but relocated to Haywood to help with the flood clean up. He’s been living there during the week for the last year. He says God has called him to help. Every weekend he goes home to take his wife out to dinner and go to church. Then he heads back to Haywood.

“It’s been sort of hard to describe but it’s been really well to give time to get someone back in their home that didn’t have any other way to actually repair their house – didn’t have any financing or any knowledge to rebuild their house that’s been flooded,” said Martin.

McArthur is thankful for all of the help from the community. Now that the debris is finally picked up she says it feels better living on the campground.

“I live back in there, which means I also lived inside like the Haywood County dump with all the piles of debris,” said McArthur. “It's like, you can put on blinders and just not see those big piles of debris and just see your kitty cats. And I keep the birds fed and I have a lot of pretty birds,” said Martin listing yellow finches and flickers.

Some days are a setback. In May, a heavy rainstorm flooded the campground again. McArthur was on her way home from visiting her new grandson when it happened.

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Ash McArthur
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Water flooded Laurel Bank Campground once again in May 2022.

“When I was coming back they said Sherrie Lynn you can’t get back in the campground. The river had come up and flooded the campground all again,” she said.

As for her future, McArthur is sad to leave the campground that her father built from the ground up. She doesn’t know what’s next.

“The world is huge and it's all wide open right now. I've thought of getting a camper and kind of trolling up and around the United States. And then, I don't know. That sounds like a dream come true actually, but I don't know what I'm going to do, but I do want to get the camp to where it's pretty, not the camp anymore. Just the property,” said McArthur.

On Thursday there was a potluck for the past campers to come together to remember. McArthur said she was looking forward to it.

You know, it's going be hard. But there's a lot [of people] coming and I've gotten cards and messages from some that can't make it, but wish they could and send their love. I miss the people. I miss the camp. It's just been hard,” said McArthur.

McArthur says it will still take another year to get the whole Laurel Bank Campground cleaned up.

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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