The people who live in the Westwood Chateau condominiums are being told they need to evacuate because of possible sinkholes underneath their homes.

On Tuesday afternoon, officials with McDowell County Emergency Management, the city of Marion, McDowell County and other local agencies were there notifying the residents at the 32-unit condo complex located behind the Lady Marian Plaza. A voluntary evacuation order was issued for the Westwood Chateau residents due to “possible sinkhole formation under the residential structures.”

A temporary shelter has been set up at the First Baptist Church of Marion located at 99 N. Main St. Marion police officers and McDowell EMS personnel were busy going door to door at the condominium complex notifying the residents who were home or posting notices on the doors for those who were away.

“Local and state agencies are currently on the scene at the apartment complex as this is a developing situation,” reads the evacuation order. “Additional testing of the ground is planned to further assess this threat. This decision is being made in the interest of public safety.”

Dustin McNeely was one resident who had just moved into a condo at Westwood Chateau. Now, he found himself having to move his belongings out.

“We were moving in and now we’re moving out,” he said to The McDowell News. “They said it some kind of structural issue with the water lines.”

“Something caused it,” said a man who declined to give his name. “We don’t know what it is. We’re just getting out of here.”

Kim Murray said she was worried about her elderly mother who lives at Westwood Chateau.

“They are all elderly people,” she said. “There’s very few young people here.”

Betsy Cannon, Murray’s daughter, said she was concerned about her grandmother as well but even more so for the other elderly residents who don’t have family close by.

“There’s no one to blame here,” said Cannon. “I understand they’re going to do shelters but shelters are short term."

Jane Neal is the president of the Westwood Chateau Condominium Homeowners Association. She said some time ago one of the condos in Building A was found to have a shifting brick and the tenant who lived there pointed it out. This was a sign of a possible problem underneath the complex.

A structural engineer looked at it and told the association he could not fix it. He recommended Catawba Valley Engineering look into the problem. This firm found “significant voids” under the ground and it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair. The engineer determined where the voids are and found the situation was precarious enough to call for a voluntary evacuation. This latest determination was received by the homeowners association at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday because the engineer had stayed up all night working on it, said Neal.

Emergency Management Director William Kehler said the next step is to work with N.C. dam safety inspectors, a geotechnical engineer and Great Meadows Corp., the owner of the lake behind Westwood Chateau. The plan is to lower the level of the lake.

This would hopefully take the pressure off of the structure beneath the condo complex, said Larry Greene, who is with the homeowners association.

But this has to be approved be engineers and state officials in Raleigh. Kehler said the state officials would address this as soon as possible.

The evacuation comes eight days after a trash truck fell into a sinkhole in the parking lot of nearby Lady Marian Plaza. No one was injured in that incident.

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