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Experts Survey Storm Damage in WNC Counties, Confirm Tornadoes in Cleveland, Rutherford

Hickory airport was damaged during the recent storm. Photo courtesy NC Emergency Management

Cleanup and damage assessment work continues in several western North Carolina counties after Monday’s strong storms and tornadoes.

One person died this morning during that cleanup work. A 31-year-old tree service contractor for a utility company was killed early Wednesday morning while working to clear a tree from a power line in Alexander County. The worker was crushed when the tree snapped back and fell on him.  

“We are all saddened by this tragic death, and it reminds us to be thankful to workers who handle difficult cleanup work after storms, especially around downed power lines, trees and other hazards,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “Communities are still picking up the pieces from these strong storms and our state experts are on the ground to help.”

National Weather Service meteorologists and survey crews have confirmed an EF2 tornado (111-135 mph) in Cleveland County that traveled from Cherokee County, SC and a tornado with a preliminary rating of EF1 (86-110 mph) in southeastern Rutherford County that traveled into western Cleveland County. Weather service teams are surveying additional areas today and may confirm more tornadoes touched down.

Damage assessment teams are conducting surveys which will be used to determine if cities, towns or counties qualify for disaster declarations and state or federal disaster assistance.

“Joint damage assessment teams including local, county and state workers are in the field,” said state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry. “We will know soon whether the nature and extent of damages qualifies communities for disaster assistance.”

The town of Marshall has declared a state of emergency where a submerged sewer line which travels under the French Broad River is believed to have broken. Environmental and public works officials are assessing the situation to determine next steps.

Local states of emergency are also in place in Alexander, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Rutherford and Wilkes counties due to the storms. The formal declaration enables jurisdictions to seek state or federal aid if needed.

About a dozen secondary roads remain closed in Catawba, Caldwell, Cleveland and Wilkes counties due to downed trees or power lines. Additionally, several roads in Transylvania County are closed due to high water.

At 2 pm, about 25,000 homes and businesses statewide were reported to be without power. The most affected counties for power outages are Wilkes, Catawba, Burke, Cleveland, Caldwell and Alexander.

Shelters remain open in Hudson where there are many power outages and in Boone, where flooding has affected apartments housing many Appalachian State University students.

Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park is closed until further notice for cleanup and repair. The park’s Rumbling Bald access is open. Stone Mountain State Parks remains closed while clean up and repairs are underway. Two sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway are closed, one that spans the North Carolina/Virginia border and another section in Henderson and Buncombe counties.