Storms wreak havoc in Collettsville

Trees snapped, power lines toppled, hillsides washed out
Jul. 14, 2013 @ 08:40 AM

Caldwell County declared a state of emergency Saturday for the Collettsville area, which was devastated late Friday by a combination of torrential rain and extreme winds.

The National Weather Service determined that microburst winds, which can be as strong as a tornado but blowing in one direction, caused most of the damage.

Driving up Abington Road from Lenoir on Saturday morning, first you saw leaves and limbs down, then farther on heavy limbs lay where they were twisted off tree trunks. One limb teetered across a power line paralel to the road. Smaller branches littered the pavement, and carpets of red mud lay caked where hillsides had washed down. Low land had become ponds, and emergency vehicles dotted the landscape.

Many roads in the affected areas were closed to all traffic except for emergency personnel. Some were blocked by trees and power lines, some by landslides.

The storms late Friday brought large hail and 5 1/2 inches of rain in just one hour, according to LouAnne Kincaid, Caldwell County public information officer.

Reports of trees and power lines toppled by high winds in Collettsville and Gamewell flooded emergency services as the storm crossed the county, and officials closed all roads north of N.C. 18 -- including N.C. 90, Abington Road, Rocky Road, Fleming Chapel Road, and Old Johns River Road -- and urged people to stay out of the area. Crews also dealt with flooding along the Johns River and at least one house fire caused by downed power lines.

More than 1,500 customers lost power due to the storm, Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp. reported.

A family living along Fleming Chapel Road was stranded in their home due to flooding, as was a motorist, but no injuries were reported.

By 2 p.m. Saturday, parts of Adako and Playmore Beach roads and N.C. 90 were reopened. An N.C. Highway Patrol chopper flew over remote areas of the county to search for stranded residents and assess further storm damage.

Adam Burleson, who lives in a rental home at the intersection of Abington Road and N.C. 90. Four trees, including a wild berry tree that was uprooted, had toppled over in his yard. Burleson said he was awoke Friday night to the sound of windows and doors being battered by the wind. He also saw dime-sized hail, and braved the elements to move his truck, dodging tree limbs along the way.

"The wind was blowing real hard. I've never seen it this bad out here," Burleson said.  "My girlfriend was at work and said she was going to spend the night with her family."

Linemen from BREMCO worked through the night and Saturday to restore power to the 342 members who lost power in the Old Johns River Road/N.C. 9 area, said Renee Whitenter, BREMCO public relations director.

Scott and Trina Rader closed their Collettsville General Store about 8 p.m. Friday after the high winds made the awning over the pumps begin to sway back and forth by about 6 inches. On Saturday, customers poured into his store Saturday morning buying fuel, ice and coffee. Some shared pictures they took of the storm damage.

A flash flood watch remained in effect until this morning, and more rain was predicted.