HAYWOOD COUNTY, N.C. — A sixth and final victim has been found dead after flooding in western North Carolina from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred.
The body of John “Jack” Krolak, 74, of Cruso, was located by search teams and positively identified by his family, Haywood County Emergency Services spokesperson Allison Richmond said in a statement Friday, according to TV station WLOS.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the recovery of the final missing victim of the flooding resulting from Tropical Storm Fred that occurred on August 17,” Richmond said.
Five others from the town of Cruso that were found dead were identified as Frank Lauer Sr., 74, Frank Mungo, 86; Franklin McKenzie, 68,; Judy Mason, 73; and Charlene Mungo, 83.
“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.
Gov. Roy Cooper has asked President Joe Biden to issue a federal disaster declaration for North Carolina over the flooding.
Torrential rains — with reports of over 20 inches in some areas — and their aftermath led to infrastructure damages estimated to exceed $20 million alone across the region, Cooper’s office said.
Gov. Roy Cooper and Sen. Thom Tillis were in Haywood County last Thursday to tour the flood-damaged area.
WLOS reported last Wednesday that about 35 people in Haywood County, just west of Asheville, were missing after the remnants from Tropical Depression Fred flooded roads and bridges -- cutting off roadways and destroying homes.
Richmond announced on the Thursday following the storm that two people were confirmed dead after the flooding that prompted dozens of water rescues. On Friday, authorities said two other people were found dead.
The storm that blew through the area Tuesday made roads impassable, washed out bridges, and swamped homes and businesses.
More than 200 people searched flooded areas along the Pigeon River. At least 10 bridges were damaged or destroyed in the Cruso community, where engineering teams worked to construct temporary bridges to allow people in and out of their homes.
“Our search crews are actively working, searching for more victims and more survivors,” Travis Donaldson, emergency services director for Haywood County, said at a news conference.
Channel 9 could see Charlotte Fire just a few miles from Cruso, searching one of the hardest-hit communities in the county.
John Nelson lost nearly everything he owned during the story. Four of his vehicles were damaged, including one that was found upside down in a creek, a half-mile away. He and his neighbor scrambled to get out after three feet of water starting pouring into Carmillo Cruz’s home. The flash flooding lifted his home off its foundation, destroying everything inside.
“Five minutes … five minutes it was out of the bank. It was a tidal wave,” Nelson said.
“That’s when I run out the back trying to get out,” Cruz said.
The Town of Canton had asked everyone to avoid the downtown area as crews work to clear streets and organize search efforts. According to officials, extra traffic may hinder active search and rescue operations.
Richmond said more search teams set off Thursday morning on missions to continue looking home to home along the Pigeon River, clearing areas and making preliminary assessments of damage. Ground, aerial (drone), and swift water rescue teams are also continuing search efforts.
Firefighters are checking every vehicle about flash flooding swept through portions of Canton. There are so many there that they’re spray painting “X’s” on the ones that have been checked.
“We don’t know what we’re going to run into. You gotta respect the water. It’s dangerous. Anything could come down stream and we don’t know what’s in these cars,” said Juan Martinez with Center Pigeon Fire.
Kevin Sandefur, CEO and founder of BearWaters Brewing Company in Canton, told reporters the flooding wiped out an outdoor seating section the brewery added to make customers feel safer during the pandemic.
“It was very frightening. I was more concerned for everybody’s safety,” he said. “My partner was the last one out of the building and barely made it out of here in his truck before they closed the bridges and the streets because it was up that high. It’s very scary how quickly it came up and overwhelmed us.”
An emergency shelter at a nearby high school housed 11 people Thursday.
Cooper surveyed flood damage Thursday afternoon, vowing afterward to help the area rebuild and noting: ”Storms are more ferocious than they were before. Climate change has contributed to that.”
Tillis toured the area earlier in the day.
WLOS reported that the town’s water filter plant is back online and producing water but that officials are asking that everyone conserve water to allow the reservoirs to fill. A Boil Water Advisory is in effect in the town until further notice.
According to WLOS, Haywood County Schools confirmed that four students were unable to return home Tuesday night after the storms. Officials have set up emergency shelters in schools and a church in town.
All residents were asked to avoid the Cruso and Canton areas as they are unsafe and additional traffic may hinder active search and rescue operations. Richmond said there is significant damage to roads and bridges, especially in Cruso, with at least 10-15 bridges damaged or destroyed.
Earlier Wednesday, a spokesperson with Haywood County told ABC News that the search has been difficult due to the washed out roads but she is “hopeful” search and rescue crews can locate the rest of the people who have not been heard from.
Cooper held a news conference Wednesday where he said he has declared a State of Emergency for any area where search-and-rescue efforts are ongoing.
A helpline is in place for anyone needing assistance related to the storm. The helpline number is 828-356-2022. The hours of operation are from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Types of assistance available through the helpline:
- Missing person information
- Food, housing assistance
- Special needs assistance
- Volunteer or donation opportunities
- Other storm-related needs
A temporary medical clinic has been established in the little gym at the Canton Middle School.
The Juke Box Junction has been collecting donations. They are doing everything they can to help their neighbors.
“I cried many times yesterday. Just people coming in, they’re still shell shocked. They don’t even know what they need. They’ve been completely wiped out,” said Caroline Graham, with Juke Box Junction.
The Town of Canton reportedly sent residents the following message:
“This is a message from the Town of Canton with several important updates for everyone. First, we are asking everyone to avoid the Downtown Canton area for the safety of all.
We cannot get the streets cleaned and ready to open if we are continuously trying to control traffic. Please avoid all streets downtown. With that said, all downtown streets going both directions are closed, all side streets leading into town are closed, 19/23 in both directions to the Buncombe County line are closed, and Rhoda St. is closed until further notice.
The water filter plant is back online and producing water and we are asking that everyone conserve water at this time to allow the reservoirs to fill. We also ask that if anyone sees a water line leak to please report to the police department at 828-648-2376. The boil water advisory is in effect until further notice. All town facilities are closed until further notice.
We do want to assure our citizens that the police and fire departments are fully operational and are ready to assist in emergency situations.
This is a very difficult time for everyone involved so we ask that everyone use extreme caution and patience during this time.
First Baptist Church in Canton- 74 Academy Street- is open for shelter. The church is also serving a spaghetti dinner tonight starting at 4:00pm for anyone who needs it.”
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