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WNC Flood Survivor Recounts Harrowing Tale

WNC flooding
Natasha Bright
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Receding floodwaters reveal inches of mud inside Natasha Bright’s Cruso home.

Residents in Haywood County are holding their breath that remnants of Hurricane Ida don’t add to their misery this week. For some, the trauma of what happened two weeks ago is still front and center.

Until two weeks ago, Natasha Bright lived in a small log cabin on Cruso Road in rural Haywood County just 125 feet from the normally tranquil East Fork of the Pigeon River. Tuesday, Aug. 17 dawned not much different from any other midsummer’s day.

“I woke up and I got my kids dressed for their first day at Shining Rock [school],” she said.

The remnants of Tropical Storm Fred had begun to drop copious amounts of rain in the mountains of Western North Carolina. As Bright, a writer, sat at her desk at home around 2 p.m., she watched the rain continue to come down and started to grow concerned.

“And I was looking outside and I was like, ‘Mmmmm, it’s raining a lot,” Bright said.

Like almost everyone else that lives on the river, Bright depends on a small bridge for ingress and egress. She’d just watched her husband Kile cross it, going to pick the kids up from school.

Less than an hour later, around 3, Bright saw the river drawing closer and closer to the bottom of the bridge. Now trapped on the wrong side of the river, she sent her husband a message, telling him not to come back.

“And right at that time the transformer in front of my house blew up,” she said. “It was like a loud popping sound, and you see sparks.”

Now Bright was trapped on the wrong side of the river, without electricity. She tried calling her brother Jonathan Wood, who lived in a camper just a few yards from her home, but he wasn’t picking up. Banging on his door, she ushered Wood and his cat into her house, as the rain continued to fall and the river continued to rise.

“From like 3 to 3:30 it went from, ‘Oh, you know, it’s okay,’ to, “Oh my God, the water is coming through the floor,” Bright said.

Bright’s attention immediately turned to her two dogs, three cats, and Wood’s cat. Piling them atop the highest point in the house, her son’s bunk bed, Bright noticed that her daughter’s cat Chloe was missing. They looked and looked, but couldn’t find her as the water outside began lapping at the windowsills.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, where is she? Where is she? Where is she?’" Bright said. "And so finally, you know, finally I'm like, ‘OK, well, I gotta do other things. I gotta figure out, you know, what to get. So I need to not worry about this right now.’”

During the mayhem, Wood shushed Bright, and told her he thought he’d heard something.

“And so I went back into my daughter's room and she was on my daughter's bed completely soaked,” Bright laughed. “Just like, terrified. You could just tell she's like, just like her face, like a drowned rat-cat.”

The water started coming in through the windows, so Bright and Wood barricaded themselves inside the room with the bunk beds. It had only been an hour since the river had made their bridge impassible, but there they were — Bright, Wood, two dogs and four cats — all huddled together atop a bunk bed in the dark, all watching the East Fork of the Pigeon River rising beneath them.

The water began to recede an hour later, but hundreds of homes were destroyed. Six people died, some of them at a campground just a mile from Bright’s home. As elected officials were arriving the next day to see the damage, Bright and Wood were just emerging from a long, cold, dark night confined to the house.

“So there's a time when you wake up in between sleep and being fully awake when like, I guess you just still feel like things are normal,” she said. “And then you wake up and you realize that like, you're not, and you won't be. And the house that you bought, that you thought you were gonna be in forever, you probably won’t.”

Like many in hard-hit Bethel, Canton, Clyde and Cruso, Bright awaits help from possible disaster declaration from President Joe Biden, which North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper requested late last week.