CRANBERRY — In the late morning hours of Jan. 22, residents at Cranberry House assisted care facility located on Hwy. 19E were evacuated from their living quarters due to excess flooding of the building, according to Avery County Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Director Paul Buchanan.
“A sprinkler system went off the in the building,” Buchanan explained.
Buchanan estimated that the sprinkler break occurred at around 10:30 a.m., with water quickly accumulating within the complex.
“It expelled a lot of water into building, basically flooding it,” Buchanan said. “As many people know, sprinklers are designed to throw a lot of water into a little area. The sprinkler deluged a lot of water in the office area, as well as around the dining room area of the facility. In return, it caused a power issue because a lot of the power was underwater and other health department cleanup issues were involved.”
Avery Emergency Management provided a portable lighting station on site, with generators on hand to assist with electrical backup and water removal. Box fans were also being utilized within the hallways of the facility to assist in the drying-out process.
Resident evacuation of the facility began promptly after the sprinklers malfunctioned, with a helping hand coming in the form of several local agencies, according to Buchanan. Avery County EMS and Linville Central Rescue Squad provided ambulance support, Avery County Schools provided a couple of buses to assist with patients as well, with transport assistance in the form of mini-buses from Avery County Transportation, who provided some of its handicapped-equipped vehicles to accommodate approximately 25 of the residents which were confined to wheelchairs.
The approximately 50 residents were relocated out of Cranberry House to comparable facilities in the area, according to Buchanan, with the final patients evacuated from the building by 3:30 p.m.
Residents were allowed to return to Cranberry House by approximately 6 p.m. on Friday evening, Jan. 24, but not before repairs and inspections were made to ensure the structure was safe for habitation.
“Fortunately, it is a large company and they threw a lot of people at it, and literally 24 hours later they were pretty much ready to move residents back into the building,” Buchanan added. “Between myself, inspections and the health department, we had to do our inspections to make sure everything was correct. Once we gave them the green light, they began moving all the residents back in.”
The incident was an indicator of the quickness and effectiveness with which agencies around the county work in conjunction with one another.
“It’s what we do. Whether Emergency Management or emergency services, we plan for the rainy day,” Buchanan said. “That said, we already had plans in place with Avery Transportation, as well as their plan. We also reached out to the school board, and they were able to throw us a lot of buses at once in order to get all the people transferred to where they needed to go, as well as Avery EMS and Linville Central Rescue. I wouldn’t say that it went flawlessly, but on our part of things, it went smoothly. We knew what one another was doing.”