When Brenda Stroupe remembers her own experience of Haywood County’s catastrophic flood of August 2021, she thinks about the Christian lessons of 2 Corinthians.
“The Bible says you know a man by his spirit, not by his flesh,” Stroupe says, as she recalls a community that rallied to support its flood victims. From there she goes on to tell a compelling story of both spirit and flesh—a harrowing tale from Hidden Valley Circle, one of the county’s hardest-hit neighborhoods.
Brenda and her husband, Robert “Red” Stroupe, then a Canton police officer, bought their handsome two-story log home in 2013 at the lower end of a pretty, leafy neighborhood near Bethel. Red passed in 2016, and Brenda now lives there with the couple’s son, Lee, 23.
The house is in the bottoms, near the east fork of the Pigeon River. It’s damp there, Brenda says, and wet when it’s rainy. But with their house perched on a high foundation, flooding was never a huge worry. As rain pelted down for the third straight day on August 17, however, she had a sense of foreboding. She’d had a nightmare two nights prior that involved flood water— and even included the word tsunami —and it kept coming to mind.
She and Lee were keeping an eye on the river but hadn’t yet seen reason to worry when another son, Jerry, working in Cashiers, saw an alert that the Pigeon River was rising, and called to urge them to higher ground.
Brenda balked, and Jerry called her hard-headed. “Y’all need to pack a bag!” he urged. Eventually, Brenda agreed. As she and Lee were upstairs throwing a few clothes together, the river arrived. In a matter of seconds, the water swirled around both sides of the house.
Lee isn’t a swimmer, and Brenda was recovering from recent surgery, so they were at a standstill.
In the distance, neighbors were hustling around, rescuing what they could, and one waded deep to pull the Stroupe’s camper to safety. Several offered to try to help the Stroupe’s through the swirling brown current, but Brenda and Lee decided to risk it in their sturdy house. Remembering the thick flow, she says “I’ll never look at chocolate pudding the same way again.”
Lee ran to the basement to pull the main breaker. Moments later they heard a strange sound. The eight-foot basement had abruptly filled with water, and floating appliances were banging against the ceiling.
“Son, let’s pray, or we’re doomed,” Brenda said. “We started praying and I said Lord if you don’t send an angel, we’re gonna be gone.”
They got another phone connection to Jerry and his sister Joy, who were desperate for them to escape to higher ground. “Son, you don’t understand!” Brenda recalls saying. “There’s nowhere to go!” Everyone was terrified; all had the sense they were saying goodbye. “I’ve never had fear grip me like that in my life,” Brenda said.
Outside the water roared.
Brenda looked out the front window and noticed that a tall shepherd’s crook plant hanger in the front yard was nearly submerged, only a few inches above the water. When she glanced again, more of the crook was visible. Soon there was more above water. “It happened so quickly, and then it started going back down, just as quick,” Brenda said.
Still, the neighborhood was torn apart. Two houses had been floated off their foundations, with one nowhere to be seen. Several more were flooded or destroyed. A man and his son were perched in a tree, waiting for help.
Eventually, rescuers arrived by boat to help the Stroupes.
Brenda spent the following days trying not to let her emotions overwhelm her. They stayed with Joy and her family in Canton. “The memory was still fresh, and I’d wake up with nightmares,” she said. One night she startled everyone by shouting in her sleep, “The water’s in here! The water’s in here!”
“It’s like a death,” Brenda said. “One day you handle it fine and the next day you can’t.”