While living in the Blue Ridge Mountains, especially high up, has many advantages including a beautiful view, an abundance of wild life, clean air, snow, and ice cold clean water. But life in the blue ridge isn’t without hardship and danger either. On January 16th of last year, we experienced first hand one of the many dangers and hardships of mountain life.
Around 2:00 on the January 16th, our power went out. Not an uncommon thing, but not frequent either. We had a storm that evening, and the wind had been blowing pretty hard. We assumed a tree was down and had fallen on the power lines somewhere between us and the power company. We went back to sleep.
Around 8:00 in the morning, my neighbor down from us called and said that we had a tree down and it looked like it was blocking the end of their road. Our property is almost 4 acres, and sits between two roads with an elevation difference of probably 200 to 300 feet. We’ve had trees down and across the roads in our neighborhood before, so certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve had to go cut a tree.
I grabbed our chainsaw, and headed down. I saw the tree at the end of the road in the distance, and realized it was pretty big. I thought to myself, well this will be a good 1-2 hours of work. In hindsight, I wish it had only been 1-2 hours.
As I got closer, I realized it was my tree that had taken down the power line and also realized as I saw the roots of the tree sticking up in the air, that this was a little more than a simple fallen tree. As I pulled up, the scope of what had happened the night before came into vision, and this is what I saw:
That tree in the photo was about 25 foot up on the slope that you see in the background. Best that I could tell, due to the heavy rain, the trees roots gave way and brought the whole slope down with it. The mudslide was about 100 foot wide and about as tall. I climbed over the tree and looked up the slope to see this:
Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell from the photo just how big the slide really is, but it was big. Water and mud was pouring down the hill and onto the road. The mud almost looked like hot lava is it slowly flowed down the hillside and out into the road. The mud was running down the road, and accumulating in one of my neighbors driveways. The worst part was the mud just kept coming down the hillside.
I immediately called the power company and made them aware of the problem and what had happened. They came out, cut down some of the trees that were still at risk of hitting the lines, put a new power line back up and got our power restored. They were fast.
We were upset that it had occurred, but at the time didn’t really truly understand the extent of what we were facing. I figured I would just call my insurance company, and they would have someone out to fix it within a few weeks. Was I ever wrong…
I placed a call to my insurance agent a few hours later and was told that my home insurance, and in fact nobody’s home owners insurance, covers mudslides. Had my house been damaged by the slide, the repairs to the house would be covered, but not the slide itself. I was shocked. I pushed and pushed, but to no avail and finally hung up the phone wondering what I should do.
I called a local that I’ve become good friends with, who said he would call some friends. He called me back a few hours later, and had three friends that would come up, take a look and put together estimates for me to get it cleaned up and repaired. He also said that another friend would cut down the big locust tree in the road, if he could have the wood. I absolutely agreed to that, and within a few hours the tree was gone, but a large amount of mud and debris still blocked the road.
A few days later my friend called back with three estimates:
- $10,000 – His proposal was to build a rock retaining wall.
- $12,000 – His proposal was to use a combination of a retaining wall and a drainage system.
- No estimate – The third person wouldn’t even estimate it, but said he would do it for $50/hour.
We were devastated, as we literally didn’t have $10,000 - $12,000 to fix the slide. I decided to place one more call.
One of our other neighbors was having a new home built up the road from us and I had seen and talked with their grading contractor. I called him. He came out, took a good look and called me back a few days later with an estimate of $8500.00. His cost was lower as he already had the equipment nearby on our neighbor’s lot, and due to the fact that he could use some excess rock he had from the construction property to build a retaining wall. We had a lower cost, great, but we still didn’t have $8500.00 laying around. We had to wait.
I did go ahead and pay the contractor $500 to get the blocked driveway cleared off that the mud was blocking. At least those neighbors could get to their house.
We waited for our tax return, and a possible bonus that I might get in March. While we hated leaving the mess there, we really had no other option. In the meantime, I did call the local county government to see if there was any state or federal level assitance. I also wanted to see if there were any codes or standards we needed to meet when we finally did the repair.
They ended up sending out the local head of Erosion control for the county, along with his assistant, out to see our slide. They took pictures and documented the slide, but told me there was currently not financial assistance that was available, but they did put us on a list. There were a number of mudslides across the county over those past few months, and our county was seeking state level funding to help out. I put my name on the list, but unfortunately never got a call back. I read that the state did approve assistance for some North Carolina counties, but not ours. Looks like we were on our own.
Then, something pretty amazing happened. Some of our friends gave us money to help with the repairs. We were overwhelmed with their generosity and kindness. One of them told us that “When we we grew up, neighbors helped out other neighbors. That’s what we want to do.” My wife and I were both literally almost in tears due to their kindness. Then, a few days later our Home Owners association contributed money to cover the cost of having the road cleared and repaired, since that part fell under the responsibilities of the home owners association.
Repairing the mudslide
I gave that money to the contractor to begin, having faith that God would provide the remaining money that we would owe. Repairs started in March, once the heavy rains slowed down and the mud stopped flowing as much. Here are a few pictures of the repair process:
Once the initial mud and debris were removed, the contractor uncovered the core issue. There was water running down through the hillside. It appeared to be an underground spring that was flowing far heavier than normal due to the heavy rains we had in late 2012 and early 2013. The water appeared to have pooled up under ground, and finally with enough water sitting in there, it just gave way. The large Locust tree came down with it, further pulling the hillside down.
The spring water wasn’t coming out in just one place, but in multiple places throughout the hillside. The contractors plans of installing a drain system wouldn’t work. Instead we elected to cut the hill down further, throw some gravel up in there to help with drainage, and install a rock retaining wall to support the hillside, and catch any additional sliding that might occur. Unfortunately, this changed the cost and increased it by an additional $2,000.00.
God has never let us down, and He came through for us in a time of need, as He always has. In addition to the money we were gifted, our tax return combined by a bonus from my work would cover the cost. We would have to skip our normal annual family vacation, but at least we could get the slide repaired and safe.
Mudslide Repairs completed
The slide repairs were completed at the end of April, and while not real pretty, the repairs were complete and the hillside safe and draining the water off properly.
The hillside was seeded with a deep rooting grass, often used to support hillsides. We also left the small tree about half way up, in hopes that it would root and help hold the hillside in place.
We monitored the slide site almost weekly for the past year, and the repairs have held up. Even over the past few months as the rain has started again and water began flowing down the hillside again. The water is running off correctly, no further sliding has been noticed, and the grass is holding the hillside in place. Here are two photos I took just this morning of the repaired slide area.
While certainly not an experience we ever want to go through again, we did feel very fortunate that the slide was not near our home, or anyone else’s. We read stories in the local paper about homes in Maggie Valley that were literally 100% destroyed due to mudslides and about homes slide half way down their mountains. We were very fortunate we weren’t one of them.