Storm leaves damage, injuries and possible death
By Wes Wade | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A powerful storm system brought devastating straight line winds into Blount County early Thursday evening, leaving behind a mess of downed trees, damaged property and several reported injuries.
A possible fatality was reported in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and several other Park visitors were apparently injured shortly after the storm rolled in around 6 p.m.
Campers were reported trapped in the Cades Cove Campground.
Townsend Police Chief Ronnie Suttles said the American Red Cross was setting up an emergency shelter for people needing a place to spend the night at Townsend Church of God off Webb Road.
Kevin FitzGerald, deputy superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, described the situation caused by the fast-moving storm as “crazy.”
“There’s a lot of significant damage with trees down from east of the Y on Little River through Cades Cove over to Abrams Creek,” FitzGerald said.
“There are multiple emergencies. People are trapped between trees and in vehicles. We have crews coming in from North Carolina, cutting their way into the area.”
Lifestar helicopter reportedly transported two injured in Abrams Creek to the hospital, but no information was available.
Rangers were telling campers in Cades Cove Campground to stay put.
“Laurel Creek Road has major, major trees down. Anybody camping with supplies needs to stay tight wait for crews to get to them,” FitzGerald said.
“Our major objective is to clear a path for emergency personnel get in.”
The storm also knocked out power in many other areas of Blount County, with trees falling on electric lines and blocking roadways.
100 trees down
Blount County Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap said Thursday night that at last count, some 100 or more trees were down across the county. He said road crews would be out all night working on clearing roadways.
Alcoa Electric Supervisor Troy Morgan said about five breakers were out of commission after the storm and that numerous residents and subdivisions were affected.
“We’re in the middle of absolute chaos,” Morgan said, adding that many customers could be without power well into Friday.
Pam Arnett, Maryville Electric public information officer, said some 2,500 residents were affected at the beginning of the storm, but that power was restored to most customers by around 9 p.m. But because of the many downed trees and power lines — especially in the Montvale Road area — there were still multiple isolated power outages throughout the city that would likely last until Friday morning, Arnett said.
Firefighters responded to a brush fire in a field at the corner of North Hall Road and Associates Boulevard just after the storm system first moved in, with firefighters from both Alcoa and Blount County fire departments responding. The fire is still under investigation, said Alcoa Fire Captain Mike Berry, although lightning is a likely cause.
A six-person household on North Clover Ridge Road was temporarily moved to a neighboring home after a tree fell across their house. Anita Price said she and her four grandchildren were outside on the porch when the wind grew terribly fierce.
“I thought a tornado was coming,” Price said. “I said ‘Get in the house! Get in the house!’”
The group made it inside, Price said, just as the tree came down across the side and back of the home. Responding firefighters moved the residents to a neighboring home, where a rescue truck was supposed to come pick them up later and move them to a temporary shelter.
Firefighters from the Blount County, Greenback and Friendsville fire departments were called to a home on South Old Grey Ridge Road shortly after 7 p.m., where a downed tree had trapped a woman in her car outside the home.
National Weather Service at Morristown Meteorologist Sam Roberts said Blount County was not alone in storm damage.
“It’s very, very widespread,” Roberts said. “All the way from Southwest Virginia all the way down to the Southern Valley. I guess no area (was) hit harder than any other, mostly consisted of trees and power lines down.”
According to Roberts, storm damage across the state was mainly the result of strong straight line winds.