Wednesday marked the 4th anniversary of the natural disaster
TRYON––Four years ago on Wednesday, the tragic landslide that happened on the highway. 176 in Pacolet Valley claimed the life of a Tryon resident and swept through many homes, also trapping customers inside a restaurant.
This week, the Tryon Daily Bulletin remembers the disaster and shares the story of a waitress Caro-Mi who was trapped during the night of the mudslide.
On May 18, 2018, Subtropical Storm Alberto produced a strong overnight rainstorm that caused a huge landslide in the Pacolet Valley and claimed the life of Patricia Case. The mudslide trapped Case in her home, resulting in her death despite authorities’ heroic efforts in a desperate attempt to save her.
The tragic event also claimed the lives of two WYFF News reporters, Mike McCormick and Aaron Smeltzer, when an accident occurred three days after the mudslide. While reporting on the disaster on the highway. 176, a tree fell on their SUV.
The 3ft diameter tree is believed to have been loosened by the saturated ground due to heavy rain and mud. Both men died instantly.
The Friday night the mudslide happened, the Caro-Mi dining room on the highway. 176 was surrounded by mud, trapping workers and customers inside until Saturday morning.
Four years later, Caro-Mi’s waitress Mira Padgett talks about the chaos she and others endured being trapped inside all night during the mudslide.
She says: ‘We were working and knew it was raining like crazy, but we had no idea there was a landslide. People were coming back from leaving and saying that the bridge over the road was out of order and the roads were flooded.
Padgett says that during the night the power went out inside the restaurant.
The Caro-Mi Dining Hall is by a river and across the river is the highway. 176. The river also separates the restaurant from the customer parking lot, so there is a bridge that crosses the river. Padgett says she looked out the window and noticed the little bridge was still in good shape.
“We were afraid that a flood would happen, so everyone moved their vehicles to the other side of the river [from behind the restaurant where workers parked] across the river [where customers parked along 176],” she says.
Padgett says after hours of sitting in the Caro-Mi with no power, water or cell service, they finally realized a landslide had occurred just outside.
There were children and a baby in the restaurant at the time. “Some were crying, all were panicking,” she said. “We didn’t know what to do. It was the scramble of ‘how can I join my family’.
Padgett, sitting in her car in the parking lot, says she kept seeing a dim light in the darkness.
“He would come closer and go, come closer and go.”
Nick, Padgett’s son-in-law, and Avery, his daughter, were both present in the parking lot when Padgett noticed the distant light.
“I wanted to go try and find that light,” she says. “Obviously there was a way to make it happen. So we set off on foot.
Nick, she says, warned her not to go, because all they had to do was turn on their cellphone lights.
“There were huge boulders, so Nick and I were scrambling over rocks and mud, and I got a little way up, and then there was something big and red in the road,” says Padgett. Climbing the big bump in the road, Padgett slipped and was waist deep in the mud. She says if her son-in-law hadn’t been there to catch her, she would have continued to sink and got stuck in the mud.
“I can still feel it,” she said. “And I can still hear the sound of the mudslide rolling down the mountain. It’s not something you forget.
At that point, soaked in mud, Padgett, Nick, and his daughter returned inside the Caro-Mi where Padgett changed clothes.
“After several hours,” she says, “the light kept coming and going in the distance, then it faded.”
With no cell service and customers inside panicking, Padgett says a man in the parking lot began shouting that he had found spotty cell service around 5 a.m. Padgett immediately called her husband to let him know she and their daughter were fine.
Padgett’s husband and parents had already called the Columbus Police Department to send someone to pick them up from the restaurant.
Early that Saturday morning, Padgett says two men from the police department rushed through the mud to rescue everyone trapped inside Caro-Mi. Responders took scores of people at once to the Triangle Stop gas station up the road, and Padgett and other workers were released and back with his family around 1 p.m. that Saturday.
As of 2018, James “Tank” Waters was the current Chief of the Tryon Fire Department. Padgett tearfully said, “Days later, I spoke to Tank.”
The faded light in the distance that Padgett had seen all night long had been Chief Tank and the Tryon Fire Department trying to reach the Caro-Mi all night.
Padgett says that four years ago, on that tragic night, she spent those dark hours in prayer with Isaiah 41:13 in mind: “For I am the Lord your God, who take hold of your right hand and said to you: Do not be afraid; I’ll help you.”
Tryon Daily Bulletin remembers and sympathizes with the families who lost loved ones in the natural disaster that took place on May 18, 2018.