More than 40 people have been evacuated from homes in or near Rich Cove Road in Maggie Valley. On Friday night, Feb. 5, a huge mudslide tore down the mountainside, leaving a swath of destruction more than 90 feet wide and 3,000 feet long, say reports from various media outlets, including WLOS and the Asheville Citizen-Times. Four homes were damaged, and resident Tammy Jones was trapped in her basement until rescue crews reached her, but no one was injured. The mudslide — or debris flow, as geologists say — was approximately 30 feet tall and 90 feet wide as it tore down the mountainside at about 6 p.m. that night.
State geologists report that the danger for more slides is very high, and a helicopter survey of the area will be done on Sunday, Feb. 7. The exact cause of the slide is unknown, though a failed retaining wall at nearby Ghost Town in the Sky is suspect. Between 10 and 16,000 tons of “potentially unstable material” remains, according to a report at MSNBC.com.
Heavy rains that occur within a short period of time increase the chances of a mudslide, state geologist Rick Wooten told Xpress last year after a similar slide wiped out the Donin home in Wild Acres in Maggie Valley on Jan. 7 (see “The Green Scene: Finding stable ground,” Feb. 4, 2009 Xpress). In 2003, a mudslide in the same neighborhood killed one woman, and in 2004, five people were killed in a Macon County mudslide.
The state has been mapping slide areas in WNC and identifying areas with the potential for severe mudslides. And environmentalists and state legislators such as Ray Rapp have argued for tougher steep-slope ordinances, particularly in counties with the most potential for landslides. As Wooten told Xpress in 2009, “It takes less rain to trigger slides on altered slopes than on natural ones.”