Sep 23 2021

Smoky Mountain News

Almost exactly one month after extreme flooding on the Pigeon River killed six, displaced hundreds and dropped mud and debris throughout downtown Canton, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis returned to check in on the progress being made as cleanup operations continue. 

“We’re out here to let [people] know we haven’t forgot [them],” Tillis told The Smoky Mountain News on Sept. 16. “I was telling people when you’re in the west, about a week after a flood event in the east you think it’s done. And when you’re in the east, and you think about a flood event up here, you think within a matter of days it’s done, but this is a months-long process that we’ll be going through. We’ll be with them every step of the way.”

Tillis’ first visit came on Aug. 19, when he joined Canton’s Mayor Zeb Smathers at a press conference on the sidewalk in front of town hall. Tillis later toured the destruction in Cruso, and said he recognizes the difference between his first visit and his second. 

“I see a lot of resilience. I was seeing three to four inches of mud down at the brewery and in the town hall,” Tillis said. “I mean, people have restored a lot, but we’ve got a lot more work to do, which is why I’m glad we’ve got the disaster declaration and the public and individual assistance moving into the pipeline now.”

The federal disaster declaration wasn’t issued by President Joe Biden until 22 days after the flooding, drawing criticism from local officials over the lengthy wait. Tillis didn’t seem willing to dwell on the delay.

“I think you could argue that maybe we could have done it a week sooner, but in order to make sure that we were going to get the disaster declaration, which is never guaranteed — we’ve had some more events where we didn’t — it was important to do the homework and then run it through the process that requires FEMA,” said Tillis. “But the key now is it’s here and we’ve got to get it moving to individuals and the public entities that can benefit from it.”

Smathers praised Tillis and his team, particularly their assistance through the disaster declaration process, and said that he expects to see Sen. Tillis back in Canton several more times as rebuilding progresses.

“What means the most to me is that he’s back, and much like Gov. Cooper, it’s not like, ‘Hey we showed up and now you’ll never see us again,’” said Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers. “It’s easy to make those visits in the days following but remaining part of the conversation is important, and Sen. Tillis has remained part of this conversation.”