Originally published in The Sylva Herald on Sept. 17, 2020.
As the fourth week of classes began for Western Carolina University students, many Husk residents were blindsided Sept. 8 by early morning flooding of their apartments. The Husk is an apartment complex mostly for WCU students off Little Savannah Road in Cullowhee.
“We were paged in reference to smoke alarms going off in the building that said there was water coming out of the boards of some of the rooms, but there had not been an active sprinkler activation, so we weren’t getting a sprinkler alarm,” Cullowhee Fire Chief Tim Green said. “When I got there and traced it out, an upstairs apartment had a blown waterline under a kitchen sink.”
WCU student Lauren Wagstaff described waking up to the situation.
“I was woken up at 6:30 a.m. by my roommate saying we have an emergency,” she said. “The fire department and police were outside telling us that we had to evacuate and that the right half of the building was being condemned. I had over an inch of water throughout my kitchen and living room, and one of my roommate’s bathroom and bedroom had over 3 inches.”
She was confused as to why Husk personnel was not on-site, she said.
“The Husk management wasn’t even awake or aware of what was going on until like 8 a.m.” Wagstaff said. “ We did not evacuate because we didn’t know where to go because I have a 100-pound dog with me.”
Upon arrival, Husk management tried to defuse the situation.
“So, when the Husk people were aware, they opened up the office for all the people whose units got damaged (five units of four people), they bought us Bojangles and told us that the fire department couldn’t condemn it because they have no jurisdiction,” Wagstaff said. “They told us we could stay in the office until they assess the damage with the service provider. The Husk management didn’t tell us where we were going to be staying until like 3:30 p.m. so from 6:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. me and my roommates sat in our flooded apartment because the office was flooded with people who were getting packages, using the gym and stuff which made it way too crowded for 20 people plus my dog to sit in there and wait.”
The WCU police department was on the scene, Green said.
“They were talking with some folks at Western about trying to find a place for the tenants to go to temporarily because we couldn’t get ahold of anybody at the complex,” Green said.
The Husk and The Helm’s management did not respond to specific questions but did release a statement: “Unfortunately, a pipe fitting came loose in one building and has affected 24 of our residents. We are very sorry this happened and have provided hotels for them while the issue is being repaired.”
As of Monday, Sept. 14, Wagstaff had been living in a hotel room, she said.
The Herald reached out to The Husk and The Helm developer, Zimmer Development Company of Wilmington, but did not receive a response.
The Husk and The Helm faced various issues prior to move-in, such as water quality and erosion that caused a home to be knocked off its foundation last October. In August, multiple residents received emails stating their move-in date would be later than expected due to unfinished construction of their apartments.