Two More Bodies Recovered, Bringing Death Toll In Haywood County Floods To Four

Aug 19, 2021

(4:00 p.m. Friday)  The Haywood County Sheriff's Office confirmed two more bodies were found Friday afternoon, bringing the death toll from Tuesday's flooding to four.

A press release reported that identification and family notification for the two bodies is underway, and the more information will be released once that occurs.  “We would like to extend our sympathies to all the families who have been affected by this tragedy and most especially to those who have lost loved ones,” said Sheriff Greg Christopher in a statement.

Earlier Friday, Christopher said there were still seven people unaccounted for following the floods, all in the Cruso area which was hardest hit.  The first two victims were also identified Friday - 86-year-old Frank Mungo and 68-year-old Franklin McKenzie, both of Cruso.  

(1:00 Friday) Haywood County authorities have dwindled the list of people still unaccounted for following Tuesday's flooding to 7.  All who remain unaccounted for were in the Cruso area, which saw the heaviest damage.

Haywood County sheriff Greg Christopher identified the two people who died in the flood as 86-year-old Frank Mungo and 68-year-old Franklin McKenzie.  Both were from Cruso.  Christopher said both were found in the areas where the Pigeon River flooded its banks.  He did not know whether they were in a home, a trailer, or in one of the campgrounds where some of the still unaccounted for were.

Emergency services director Travis Donaldson said at least 10-15 bridges, not including private ones, were destroyed by the floods.  He says the debris fields left in the flood's wake will take weeks to comb through.  

(9:00 p.m. Thursday ) Governor Roy Cooper vtravelled with media the 13 miles from Canton to the Cruso Fire Department. Along the road, - which is still closed to non-residents - homes are destroyed, vehicles can been seen in trees along the Pigeon River and guardrails lay twisted in fields.

Those in need in the community gather at the fire house and community center to pick up supplies while volunteers meet to help clear the damage. 

In Cruso, along the Pigeon River.
Credit Lilly Knoepp

Tim Henson is chief of Cruso Fire and Rescue. His team and volunteers have been working since Tuesday to help those in need.

“Obviously our community has been devasted by the effects of this flash flood so we are still trying to assist in the search and rescue operation and things are on-going," said Henson. 

Henson thanked crews from across the country who have come to help.

Outside of the fire station, Cooper promised to help:

“It’s pretty amazing to already see the hard work that is occurring here and I can certainly promise to turn on every spigot we can for state and federal help," said Cooper. 

Cooper said it is too early for a timeline on when a full assessment of the damage could be completed.

(5:00 p.m. Thursday) Governor Roy Cooper visited Canton and Cruso communities today in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Fred.

Cooper said that the damage assessment needed to understand what the community needs is still on going.

“What we know is this, we will help rebuild this area,” said Cooper. He said 3 main roads and 22 secondary roads are still closed.

Haywood County EMS Director Travis Donaldson shared that there are now 20 people missing, an update from +30 unaccounted people yesterday.

“Our folks have seen stuff that they have never seen before and probably hope to never see again. They are extreme and dire for our community,” said Donaldson. There have been over 200 water rescues in the county.

Donaldson said that many people had been located while new names have also been reported to the team. Two people were confirmed dead. Their identities have not yet been released.

Haywood County Commissioner Kevin Ensley said that $300 million in damage are estimated so far just in part of the Cruso Community. Ensley, a surveyor by trade, says the flooding was above the 100-year flood line.

(1:00 p.m. Thursday)  Emergency officials have confirmed two deaths in Haywood County from Tuesday's flooding, while dozens are still unaccounted for as searches and cleanup goes on in earnest." class="wysiwyg-break drupal-content" src="/sites/all/modules/contrib/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif" title="<--break-->">

“The community of Cruso saw some of the worst destruction of Haywood County that I have seen in my life and way more than in 2004 (following Hurrican Ivan),” said EMS Director Travis Donaldson Thursday afternoon.

Homes have been carried for miles and miles according to Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher.

“We are always going to lean on that side of hope that we are going to find somebody that is alive,” said Christopher. He explained that search teams have cleared most of Lake Logan area and are moving from Cruso to Betel and down the Pigeon River.

At the Laurel Bank campground, a woman who answered the phone said nearby homes were washed away and that all of the campers in her campground are gone.  "I lost 4 people in the water in the flood. They are gone," she told Blue Ridge Public Radio.  She also called for funding as assistance as soon as possible: “If you can get us some government help in here we need it - bad."  There is a go-fund-me set up for the community of the campground. There have been over $4,000 donated in the 20 hours the fund has been active.

Both U.S. Senator Thom Tillis and Governor Roy Cooper will tour the Canton area Thursday with local officials.  The Pigeon River in Canton swelled by almost 17 feet in less than 10 hours Tuesday, going from just under 3 feet at 10:30 a.m. to over 19 feet by 8 p.m. as the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred made its way through the region.

Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers said Canton Alderman Dr. Ralph Hamlet had his house pushed off its foundation.  “This is a Haywood County community tragedy, but we are one family.” 

He quoted local Balsam Range’s popular song “grit and grace” to describe what is community is going through and called for a federal state of emergency so that the county can get the funds they need to rebuild.

Haywood County Commission Chair Kevin Easley shared that 500 families that have been displaced by the destruction and that 20- 30 bridges are damaged and broken in the region.

In neighboring Transylvania County, crews were able to locate one stranded camper, and do not believe any others are in the area of Daniel's Creek where they were searching late Wednesday afternoon.  No missing persons reports have been filed and authorities said drone surveillance showed no signs of any additional campers stranded. 

The U.S. Forest Service is still assessing all the damage from flooding in the Pisgah National Forest.  The Cradle of Forestry, two campgrounds, and many roads are closed.  N.C. 276 is open to the Pisgah Visitor Center, and the Forest Service expects it will open further in the coming days.  In a statement, District Ranger Dave Casey said, “We appreciate your patience as we work to assess the damage we’ve endured throughout the Forest. The passion and pride the public feels about the Pisgah has been clear in their enthusiastic response to help. At this time we ask everyone to stay patient and be cautious if and when choosing to enter the Forest.”