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Chuck Megahee, the owner of the Subway on Signal Mountain Road, talks about the mudslide that took out his business in February during an interview Thursday, April 11, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Megahee is hoping to warn other business and home owners in the area that their property may be at risk.

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Subway landslide

Longtime Subway franchise owner Chuck Megahee returned to the site of one of his former restaurants on a recent sunny morning to see the damage.

More of the hillside above what was once his restaurant had collapsed, dumping additional trees and dirt over the rubble of the former eatery on Signal Mountain Road.

Remnants of what once stood before a February landslide were still visible beneath a pile of grey cinder blocks: plastic spoons scattered across portions of the parking lot, a counter attached to a fallen wall, a yellow picnic table for outdoor seating. There's no incentive for the owners to remove the debris. Their insurance claim was rejected. They won't rebuild.

The owners believe they needed flood insurance to be covered from a mudslide, they learned after the incident. The information was there, in what their insurance company referred to as the BP0003 of the Businessowners Coverage Form in a rejection letter sent in late March.

"The report indicates a significant land and mud slide from high levels of precipitation destroyed your building located at this property," the letter read. "As such, this type of loss would be considered excluded and there would be no coverage."

Record rain during the winter caused mudslides and sinkholes countywide in late 2018 and early 2019.

On Feb. 23, a tree fell onto an employee's car, alerting Megahee's son, Owen, the current business owner, to possible danger. He evacuated at lunchtime and closed. The restaurant was flattened the next morning.

"If they had it open, and employees and customers had been in there, we'd be talking about something much more serious," former fire department spokesman Bruce Garner said after the collapse. "People could have been hurt or killed for sure."

The Subway was long owned by Chuck Megahee, a retired local businessman, who operated a handful of the restaurants in the area. He once owned six before the Subway on Frazier Avenue closed. He recently turned over the remaining five to his son.

For the father, it's good to know his son acted quickly.

"They're all saying my son is a hero, and he is," Chuck Megahee said, but that doesn't alleviate hardship for the family. Owen Megahee has four children of his own. "He has lost 20% of his income."

He argues the family wasn't properly warned. And he admits that the exclusion for "earth movement" was listed in his insurance plan but added "nobody reads their insurance policy, let's face it."

"Here I stand, and my thinking is, I should have had flood insurance," he said. "My issue is that nobody told me anything."

He believes there should have been a risk assessment when he filed his insurance claim, something he isn't sure was done. His local insurance representative did not return several calls.

Megahee's motives for talking about his experience are two-fold: he wants to help himself by putting pressure on his insurance company but he also wants to warn residents of potential dangers that may not be covered. He's been telling his friends who own businesses, vacation homes or other property to check their policies. They may need flood insurance even if they're not in an area prone to flooding.

Nearby Shuford's barbecue was forced to move after the collapse after 33 years at the base of Signal Mountain. The restaurant shared a parking lot with Subway but was told in a note from the city that its location was dangerous. The restaurant moved to the former site of the Southern Traditions Restaurant at 3224 Dayton Blvd. in Red Bank.

The county's office of emergency management and homeland security developed a strategy in recent months to reduce the impacts of such natural events. The hazard mitigation plan has an added focus on landslides, sinkholes and flooding.

The county office partnered with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Department of Geology to map the history of sinkholes and landslides in the area as well as soil types to see what areas could be susceptible. From there, they are working to help ensure development projects consider such factors.

"I think we need to increase the awareness of [these issues]," UTC assistant professor of biology, geology and environmental science Azad Hossain, who is helping with the project, said. "We never know which slope is going to fail, but we want the community members to be more educated and aware so they can make their own decisions."

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at mpace@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoorsTFP.

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