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Canton Mayor Calls For Compassion During Flood Recovery In WNC

A Shot Above/Allen Newland
The town of Canton was underwater on August 17th after Tropical Storm Fred.

Haywood County was ravaged last night by heavy rains and wind from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred.

At least were 30 people unaccounted for on Wednesday afternoon after flooding caused evacuations in Haywood County.

The towns of Clyde and Canton were both on boil advisories because their shared water system is shutdown.

Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers was walking around downtown checking on local businesses when BPR spoke with him:

“At this point we are in recovery and that concerns logistics and safety but it also involves compassion and lending a helping hand,” said Smathers.  

Smathers says much of the water receded after the initial downpour, but many roads and bridges are still damaged and closed. Fifty-four people had to take emergency shelter at the local high school and many more evacuated. Haywood County Emergency Services says over 100 personnel were working last night in the county to get folks to safety.

For Smathers, the damage looks a lot like when Hurricane Ivan swept through the county in 2004.  The storm caused millions in damage and killed at least one person there.

“This is very similar to 2004 floods. Anything that was touched in 2004, it seems to be the same footprint -  whether that be the town hall, the museum, Bear Waters [Brewery], football stadium,” said Smathers.

Eleven people were killed across Western North Carolina and there were more than $200 million dollar  in damages during the 2004 storm, according to the Asheville Citizen Times.

With at least 30 people currently missing in Haywood County, this stands to be worse. Smathers has this to say to those who are looking for their family members:

“That a mayor, a town, is praying and that our hearts are with them,” said Smathers.  “I know the character and the grit of this community and when we sincerely say that we are praying and we are hoping and we are searching; it’s sincere. What you see is what you get in Canton and Haywood County.”

No deaths were confirmed by press time. All eyes are on the upcoming forecast – which shows more rain.

"The rain does not intimidate me. I’m used to rain. What I’m not used to is the intensity of what Fred ravaged our mountain community yesterday,” said Smathers.  

Governor Roy Cooper called a state of emergency for the region because of the flooding during a 3 p.m. press conference.

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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