Section of NC 194 still crumbling after massive mudslide
by Caroline Harris
A large section of Highway 194 buckled after persistent rainfall, leaving a crater in the road and a mudslide in the valley below.
Robbie Bailey, his wife and children, as well as his brother's family, are splitting time between a large camper and their mother's house.
"We're staying everywhere. We've got some help from the Red Cross and from individuals in Avery County. Some churches have taken up offerings for us," Bailey said. "That's been really great."
In terms of governmental assistance, other than being told to fill out some paperwork, "they've not let us in on nothing," Bailey said.
When asked what he wished he could have saved, photos and other pieces of family history were on the list, but he mainly wished he could have saved his horses.
"I told my wife there's a 75 percent chance that they ran off. Two of them would definitely run if they got a chance," Bailey said.
The displaced earth in the holler, two to three stories high in some places, is too deep to check. Bailey called the loss very depressing.
For now, the family's priority is that the children stay in the same school. Bailey said they have not had much time to think about where they will go next.
According to Bailey, the mudslide has slowed, with only some activity when road crews work near the crater.
North Carolina Department of Transportation communications officer Jerry Higgins said rebuilding the road is on hold until the slide stops completely, which is impossible to predict.
"We're still examining the area up there. It's tricky," he said. "There's a host of environmental issues that need to be looked at. So we have geo-tactical folks who are looking at the slope and what it's comprised of and how it has to be built up. We have hydrological folks that look at drainage and roadway design folks who are looking at the situation to see how we can build up the slope and eventually rebuild the highway. So, it's going to have to be done in steps."
Even after the mountain stops coming down, they may have to dig out more of it in order to start building it back.
"Part of that slope will probably be taken out. Even though what's already down is down, you might have to take out more depending on how you're going to rebuild that slope and what type of wall you'll have to build," Higgins said. "And looking at that hole, that's going to have to be built from the ground up, which means you'll have to fill it."
No plans can be made until geologists find what the mountain is made of and how far down it is to solid rock.
But according to Higgins, there will definitely not be a bridge.
"You wouldn't build a bridge there, just because you have the road already in place. From a structural and a design standpoint, you have an existing road there. You can redo a road. It's just a matter of what you have to build up as foundation," Higgins said.
There is no timeline for the completion of the new road, he said.
"Safety is the No. 1 priority, obviously, in everything we do. It doesn't matter if it's this or just a simple road paving. We can't work on it at all until everything stops," Higgins said.
"We have to wait until the conditions are safe enough to go through there, but even before that, to actually work on the project, a contract has to be drafted and reviewed and then put out to bid like any other DOT project." he said.
The restoration of Highway 194 is a waiting game, subject to the elements, and winter is coming.For the Bailey family, the continued support of church communities and Avery County residents is greatly appreciated.
Volunteer Avery County has established a fund to assist the families affected by the mudslide. For more information, call Jayne McNeil with Volunteer Avery County at (828) 737-0718 or Edwina Sluder at (828) 766-0879.