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Macon County shelter still recovering from cold weather damage

When a sprinkler pipe burst at REACH on Christmas Eve in the shelter's computer lab, water quickly spread throughout the shelter.
Courtesy of REACH
When a sprinkler pipe burst at REACH on Christmas Eve in the shelter's computer lab, water quickly spread throughout the shelter.

Over the holidays, freezing temperatures hit Western North Carolina causing issues with water, electricity and travel across the region.

In Macon County, Duke Energy reported about 2,600 people lost power over the Christmas weekend.

The temperatures caused a sprinkler system pipe at the local domestic violence shelter to burst causing flooding throughout the facility – in the dark.

Five families were staying in the REACH shelter on Christmas Eve, Assistant Director Jennifer Turner-Lynn said.

“When the sprinkler pipe burst, it actually triggered our fire alarm system which is what it's supposed to do. And so, the fire alarm started to go off,” she said.

From there staff – and some of the family members who had been celebrating together - leapt into action.

“Obviously it was complicated. So not only are we trying to get [families staying at the shelter] to alternative shelter, but we're also having to arrange food, trying to save Christmas presents for themselves and their children,” Turner-Lynn said. “Trying to salvage really Christmas Eve for some of the kids who quite honestly would've been expecting Santa.”

The burst pipe caused extensive damage. Despite a quick response time from the local fire department, the Town of Franklin and ServPro, there was 95 percent loss of anything touching the floor at the shelter including furniture and office equipment, she said.

“Fortunately, because clients were very quick thinking, most of the clients were fortunate that they did not have a lot of loss personally as far as their own personal items or Christmas presents or anything of that nature,” she said.

While repairs are underway, REACH is working with its partners across the region to set up families in alternative housing. REACH says phonelines are still open for people who need help.

There isn’t a timeline yet for when the shelter will be fixed. The team is trying to understand how much everything will cost because it took several weeks just to get the water out of the building, Executive Director Andrea Anderson said.

“So really it took us a while to get everything dried out, the water out and emptied out so that now contractors can come in and really look at what needs to be done,” Anderson said.

After dealing with the emergency and removing the damaged materials, the shelter needs an official analysis, Turner-Lynn said. Then construction to repair and replace the damage will need to occur before staff can begin to put the shelter back together. The project is a multiple-phase process and construction has not yet started, she said.

The staff expects much of the damage to the 10-bedroom shelter will be covered by insurance, and they hope the community will be able to help fill in any gaps.

There isn’t a specific fundraiser set up for the rebuilding costs, but REACH’s annual Mardi Gras fundraiser takes place February 21. Find out more information on the REACH of Macon County Facebook page.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, contact REACH or another local organization listed below. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800- 799-7233.

Domestic Violence Resources and Shelters in WNC

REACH of Cherokee County in Murphy, Cherokee County  

REACH of Clay County in Hayesville, Clay County

Center for Domestic Peace in Sylva, Jackson County

Ernestine Walkingstick Domestic Violence Shelter in Cherokee, Qualla Boundary

Swain/Qualla SAFE Domestic Violence Services in Bryson City, Swain County

REACH of Haywood County in Waynesville, Haywood County

SAFE Inc. in Brevard, Transylvania County

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She 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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