North Carolina Department of Correction news release

NC prisoners help clean up after flooding in Avery and Mitchell counties

JANUARY 12, 1998

Newland -- North Carolina prisoners are helping residents dig out from the mud and debris left behind by last week’s flash floods that led Gov. Jim Hunt to declare a state of emergency in four Western North Carolina counties.

Three five-man crews from the Young Offenders Forest Conservation Program at Blue Ridge Youth Center have been hard at work today in Avery County. At the direction of emergency management officials, the inmate crews were building temporary foot bridges to help some residents get back to their homes and help others leave for the first time since roads washed out last week.

"Thursday through Sunday, our crews worked a total of 500 hours," said Keith Osteen, superintendent of Blue Ridge Youth Center. "Our crews have hiked into some areas carrying food and water to some individuals where the roads were washed out."

The Young Offenders Forest Conservation Program is a joint effort of the state forestry and prison systems that began in 1986. The program puts young minimum security prisoners to work in forest conservation programs.

Osteen says the crews have unloaded National Guard trucks bringing in supplies, chopped firewood, helped remove debris and helped emergency management officials search for propane tanks and livestock.

At the request of Emergency Management, three inmate work crews were dispatched to Mitchell County today. Two of the crews are from Caldwell Correctional Center at Hudson and one is from Wilkes Correctional Center at North Wilkesboro. The crews went to an Emergency Management command post in Bakersville and were assigned to a variety of tasks from there.

Two crews from Caldwell Correctional Center worked in Bakersville last Friday. "The inmates were busy using wheel barrows and shovels to clean streets," said Sgt. Dale Stevens from the Caldwell prison. "They cleaned up limbs, mud and whatever the flood brought through town."

The crews from Caldwell and Wilkes are part of the Governor’s Community Work Program, an inmate work program begun in 1994. A correctional officer supervise squads of up to ten minimum security inmates in short term, manual labor projects for local governments and public agencies. The crews provide a work force that have helped community clean up after natural disasters including ice storms, flooding and hurricanes.

A foot or more of rain fell in Avery and Mitchell counties last Wednesday night and Thursday. The heavy rains and flash flooding caused damage in Avery, Mitchell, Transylvania and Watauga counties.