Haywood campground owner: 'I've never been so lost.' 4 campground residents died in flooding

·5 min read

CRUSO — Every day, the images still float through Sherrie McArthur's mind, like the debris that clogged the East Fork of the Pigeon River in August:

Once-pleasant summer dwellings washed away or shredded to pieces. Debris everywhere on the 11-acre property her family first opened as a campground 51 years ago. And the four residents of Laurel Bank Campground who lost their lives in the Aug. 17 flooding caused by remnants of Tropical Storm Fred.

McArthur, 65, owner of what's left of the Laurel Bank Campground, sometimes has been staying with her sons in Cruso and Waynesville, and she recently spent eight days with another son who lives in Boston. She had hoped the change of scenery might ease the painful memories, and it did for a week.

Sherri McArthur cries as she looks out at debris left by her beloved campers at Laurel Bank Campground along the Pigeon River December 22, 2021. "It's affected me so much. I lost four of my favorites ... I still cry," said McArthur, "I still cry every day when I think about it."
Sherri McArthur cries as she looks out at debris left by her beloved campers at Laurel Bank Campground along the Pigeon River December 22, 2021. "It's affected me so much. I lost four of my favorites ... I still cry," said McArthur, "I still cry every day when I think about it."

"But when I came back, it's still the same ugly, flooded mess," McArthur said. "It's affected me so much. I lost four of my favorites ... I still cry. I still cry every day when I think about it."

'It's gone. There's nothing here.': Cruso campground, nearby homes destroyed by flooding

The Aug. 17 flooding inundated the Cruso community of Haywood County. In a post-storm analysis, the National Weather Service found more than 14 inches of rain fell over 12 hours, with 8 of those falling in just two-three hours at the headwaters of the Pigeon River near Graveyard Fields.

"Until you've been through a disaster like this, you really don't know what it's like," said Sherri McArthur. "You don't have a clue. I've never been so lost."
"Until you've been through a disaster like this, you really don't know what it's like," said Sherri McArthur. "You don't have a clue. I've never been so lost."

"In all, six people died in the flood; several were part-time residents of the campground, others lived nearby," said. Allison Richmond, spokeswoman for Haywood County Emergency Management Services.

Read More: Weather Service says, 'we weren't caught off guard,' but Cruso flood survivors disagree

The remains of the campground lie across Cruso Road (U.S. 276) from the Cruso Volunteer Fire Department. A bridge going to the campground sustained serious damaged but was repaired last summer.

The post-storm report found 91 private bridges were damaged or destroyed and more than 450 structures were damaged.

Mooresville Fire and Rescue's Neel Brawley rinses soap from Shawnjay Holtham's pants as the team cleanses themselves of possible contaminates after searching for people in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Fred along the Pigeon River in Cruso, August 20, 2021.
Mooresville Fire and Rescue's Neel Brawley rinses soap from Shawnjay Holtham's pants as the team cleanses themselves of possible contaminates after searching for people in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Fred along the Pigeon River in Cruso, August 20, 2021.

McArthur rebuilt in 2004

McArthur said the Laurel Bank Campground property has been in her family for all of her life. Her father, Harold Crawford, built the campground 51 years ago, and McArthur ran it from 2004 on.

She had to rebuild then, after remnants of Hurricane Ivan caused serious damage to the riverside campground.

This time, McArthur's home office on the property sustained damage, but volunteers are helping with restoration.

Sherri McArthur has lived for four months surrounded by the debris left by her beloved campers at Laurel Bank Campground along the Pigeon River. "It's affected me so much. I lost four of my favorites ... I still cry," said McArthur, "I still cry every day when I think about it."
Sherri McArthur has lived for four months surrounded by the debris left by her beloved campers at Laurel Bank Campground along the Pigeon River. "It's affected me so much. I lost four of my favorites ... I still cry," said McArthur, "I still cry every day when I think about it."

"I was sitting on my porch the other day — it's an A-frame with a loft area upstairs I'm still able to stay in — and I was thinking about all the hard work my family has put in the campground over the years, and it’s just all gone," McArthur said, adding that she rebuilt in 2004 in part because that was supposed to be a 100-year storm event. "I can't do it this time. The infrastructure is all gone, and there's no dirt left."

Previous reporting: Body of final missing Haywood County flood victim recovered from Tropical Depression Fred

That leaves McArthur without a job. This time, she says, there's just no way they'll be able to reopen.

Few RV's were left standing at Laurel Bank Campground after the Pigeon River violently overflowed during Tropical Storm Fred.
Few RV's were left standing at Laurel Bank Campground after the Pigeon River violently overflowed during Tropical Storm Fred.

About 100 campsites were damaged or wiped out, McArthur said, including 10 tent camping sites, 10 overnight sites and more than 60 more permanent campsites with campers that had roofs overhead, and sometimes amenities such as porches or decks. She estimates 10-15 sites remain, but even the campers on those sustained water damage that renders them unusable.

"I’m trying to reach the owners of the ones that don’t look bad but still have damage, that are still on site," McArthur said. "But they don't know what to do with them, either."

"Someone's pill case," pointed out Sherri McArthur as she walked through the debris of Laurel Bank Campground in Cruso, December 22, 2021.
"Someone's pill case," pointed out Sherri McArthur as she walked through the debris of Laurel Bank Campground in Cruso, December 22, 2021.

Laurel Bank cleanup has been slow

Cleanup at Laurel Bank has been slower than at some other areas, in part because it's commercial property on a private road.

"Debris removal contractors cannot pick up debris on private roads or from commercial properties, so debris from the campground cannot be removed by the more common means," Richmond said. "The expectation is that commercial properties would have flood insurance to cover things like debris removal."

Sherri McArthur has lived for four months surrounded by the debris left by her beloved campers at Laurel Bank Campground along the Pigeon River. "It's affected me so much. I lost four of my favorites ... I still cry," said McArthur, "I still cry every day when I think about it."
Sherri McArthur has lived for four months surrounded by the debris left by her beloved campers at Laurel Bank Campground along the Pigeon River. "It's affected me so much. I lost four of my favorites ... I still cry," said McArthur, "I still cry every day when I think about it."

McArthur said she had liability insurance to cover injuries on the property, but the insurance has not covered debris removal. She's trying to figure that out, as well as property tax issues with the county, as the property was so severely damaged and has lost so much value.

Haywood County flood survivor: 'I just saw everything floating away'

As of Dec. 20, over more than 65,000 cubic yards of debris has been removed in Haywood County, Richmond said.

"The largest portion yet to be removed is the debris in the streams," Richmond said. "Some of that work has begun, but it is slow-going because environmental concerns have to be taken into account. Each site for stream debris removal has to be analyzed and a plan in place to prevent as much environmental disruption as possible."

'I've never been so lost'

McArthur's family raised hogs and kept horses on the property when she was little, so the land has a strong sentimental value to her. Still, the loss of life is what devastates her the most.

"I got 14 people out, and I lost four," McArthur said of Aug. 17, her voice cracking.

Sherri McArthur stands next to the ruined golf cart of a beloved camper Dec. 22, 2021, who drowned when the Pigeon River violently overflowed during Tropical Storm Fred in August. "It's affected me so much. I lost four of my favorites ... I still cry," said McArthur, "I still cry every day when I think about it."
Sherri McArthur stands next to the ruined golf cart of a beloved camper Dec. 22, 2021, who drowned when the Pigeon River violently overflowed during Tropical Storm Fred in August. "It's affected me so much. I lost four of my favorites ... I still cry," said McArthur, "I still cry every day when I think about it."

On those muggy August days, some residents saw the forecast and headed to Waynesville to get hotel rooms. But some tried to ride it out, and that decision turned tragic when the East Fork turned into a raging torrent of water, mud and debris.

Cruso NC flood survivors: 'We just saw a wall of houses floating down the river'

Watching the news about the recent tornado disaster in Kentucky, McArthur said her heart ached for all those people who have lost loved ones, homes and their life's work.

"Until you've been through a disaster like this, you really don't know what it's like," she said. "You don't have a clue. I've never been so lost."

Note: A fundraiser for McArthur and others associated with Laurel Bank Campground has been set up through Gofundme. You can find the site here: www.gofundme.com/f/help-for-laurel-bank-campground-and-cruso

"Until you've been through a disaster like this, you really don't know what it's like," said Sherri McArthur. "You don't have a clue. I've never been so lost."
"Until you've been through a disaster like this, you really don't know what it's like," said Sherri McArthur. "You don't have a clue. I've never been so lost."

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Haywood County campground owner talks after Tropical Storm Fred

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