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cover1A four-day stretch of heavy rains fell on Western North Carolina, leaving residents wondering if it would ever end. Some areas witnessed up to 10 inches.

The following collection of stories and interviews captures the drama and tension of the unrelenting rains as they wreaked havoc across the mountains.

A rockslide has shut down a portion of Interstate 40 in Haywood County for up to two weeks.

In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, a rockslide occurred near mile marker 451 in Tennessee, about one mile from the North Carolina border. Unlike the two major landslides in the past 15 years, which caused major problems for businesses in Haywood County, this most recent slide was contained to the shoulder of the road.

“It doesn’t look anywhere near as extensive as the major rock slides years ago,” said Mark Nagi, a community relations officer for Tennessee DOT.

It is unclear what or how big an effect the rockslide will have on businesses in Haywood County.

“That is just something that we can’t answer at this point in time,” said CeCe Hipps, president of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce. “Hopefully, this will not have a big effect on business in Haywood County.”

For now, county tourism leaders are spreading the word that Interstate 40 is still open near Waynesville, Maggie Valley, Canton and Clyde.

“We are just thinking how to keep the doors open,” Hipps said.

The Haywood County and Maggie chambers and the Tourism Development Authority have emailed businesses and posted information on their websites about the slide and encouraged visitors not to cancel their plans.

“We want to make sure that people are not deterred,” Hipps said.

Winter means a slower tourist season for most of the area, which gets a majority of its tourism business in the summer and fall. However, Cataloochee Ski Area is one of the local attractions that could be negatively impacted by the natural disaster as people will have to tack on extra travel time.

“The route to Maggie Valley is still open,” said Teresa Smith, executive director of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce. “Hopefully, the customer base at Cataloochee will add on that extra time.”

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is stopping motorists at Exit 20 near Jonathan Creek in Haywood County and are directing them to an alternative route through Asheville using I-26.

Anywhere between 20,000 and 25,000 vehicles travel the closed stretch of Interstate 40 each day.

As of late Tuesday morning, no traffic delays had been reported, according to NCDOT.

There is no official cause of the slide, but Nagi said the recent freeze and thaw of temperatures played a part.

“That contributed I’m sure at least in some way,” he said.

TDOT is still analyzing the slide and deciding how to clean it up. The night prevented officials beginning the process sooner.

“We had to wait for the sun to start rising before we could get a good look at everything,” Nagi said.

In late 2009, a rockslide shut down a section of Interstate 40 for about six months. Haywood County businesses saw a stark decline in customers as a result because travelers coming from the west were forced to tack more than 70 miles onto their trip.


A long detour

To Tennessee: The official detour around the closed portion of I-40 sends people north from Asheville on I-26 to Johnson City, Tenn. and finally onto I-81 South to get back to I-40. The trip adds an extra 70 miles to the trip.

The Town of Maggie Valley recently transferred the responsibility for building inspections to Haywood County. Now, Maggie is considering handing over soil and erosion control, too.

“We could really become a one-stop shop,” said Maggie planning director Nathan Clark.

Town officials from Maggie Valley and Clyde will meet Tuesday, March 23, with the Haywood County manager to discuss the potential takeover.

Both towns are also interested in exploring the possibility of adopting a county ordinance that regulates construction on steep slopes. Currently, neither town has such a policy.

The joint meeting follows a massive mudslide in Maggie Valley, which traveled 3,000 feet down the mountainside and damaged four homes.

Roads have been cleared, but up to 16,000 tons of unstable material still looms over the Rich Cove community.

Haywood’s steep slope ordinance allows the county government to force a property owner to clear debris from landslides. It can also coerce a landowner into stabilizing a slope that the county engineer deems unsafe.

If the Town of Maggie Valley adopts that ordinance, the county would have authority to deem the Rich Cove area an unstable slope, forcing Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park to take action.

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