Polk Co. officials announce road closures after storm, voluntary evacuations

Mudslide in Polk Co. (5/19/18 FOX Carolina)

After days of heavy rain brought devastating mudslides, flooding and downed trees to western North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper announced he is declaring a State of Emergency.

"Our emergency response and transportation crews have been working through the night to keep North Carolinians safe as conditions deteriorate," Cooper said. "But this storm isn't yet over. I'm urging people to keep a close eye on forecasts and flood watches, and asking drivers to use caution especially when traveling in our western counties."

During a press conference on Wednesday, Cooper urged residents of North Carolina to continue to take conditions seriously and keep a close eye on the forecast.

He said the state is mourning the deaths of Mike McCormick and Aaron Smeltzer, two WYFF journalists killed when a tree fell on their vehicle, and Patricia Case, a woman killed in a mudslide.

The State of Emergency will allow state officials to coordinate storm response and expedite movement of relief effort vehicles. Cooper also said it could potentially help draw down federal funds to repair North Carolina roads, saying the damage could be well in excess of a million dollars.

NC Emergency Management said McDowell County has experienced the most significant flooding since 2004 during Hurricane Frances. NCEM Director Mike Sprayberry said the state Emergency Operations Center is operating at Level 3 which is for any disaster "that is likely to require the assistance of several state agencies."

According to Sprayberry, power outages on Wednesday were down from more than 6,000 to more than 4,000 and residents in shelters were down from 217 to 42.

Chief Engineer Tim Little with the North Carolina Department of Transportation said more than 50 roads remain closed throughout the state due to flooding, washouts and downed trees.

Highway Patrol Commander Col. Glenn McNeil urged drives to turn around if they see standing water in the roadway.

Officials said since May 15, areas along the Blue Ridge have received between 10 and 20 inches of rain. The flash flooding threat continues for the next several days.

Cooper said he will be traveling to western North Carolina on Thursday to visit counties affected by the storms.

MORE NEWS: Mud slide sweeps NCDOT dump truck off road, into Catawba River

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