Even in 'Paradise', bad things can happen! Although relatively unusual in East Tennessee, Wednesday night, March 23rd, a tornado touched down along high ground west of Tellico Lake in Loudon & Blount counties. Laurie and I took a drive to see just how bad the damage had been. The good news is that no one was killed or critically injured in the storm. Tennessee Hwy. 95 north to Greenback off of US 411 was blocked off for use by emergency vehicles only.
Power lines were a major casualty from the storm. Many people, including our friend Larry, (aka 'Big Dude'), lost power for hours or even a couple of days. This bucolic scene of cattle grazing in the field contrasts with the placement of utility repair trucks one field away busily rebuilding/restoring power and phone lines.
You know that something significant is happening or has happened when you spot the local network news/satellite trucks on the job. This is the NBC affiliate, WBIR on site. We saw at least 2 other broadcast units along the highway.
The morning after...beautiful blue skies...a major contrast with the night before!
Many trees were downed in the affected area. In this case, one tree had fallen on a home. The tornado forged a swath of destruction that was about 1/3 of a mile wide and a little over 4 miles long. Almost 3 dozen homes and businesses were damaged and destroyed. One large 3 story home with a 5 car garage was totally shredded, but the owner, the pastor of New Life Ministries Christian Center and his family weren't home when the storm hit.
This home sits right along US 411. Not only was it damaged beyond repair, it was blown off its foundation. This was a strong EF3 tornado, with winds reaching up to 160 mph.
Another local resident was feared dead when his mobile home was thrown a couple hundred feet by the storm and destroyed. The good news was that he'd recently been assigned to the 3rd shift at his job and he was at work when the storm hit.
This is all that remains of the Orr & Orr Developers Auto Body shop on US 411. One building was totally blown away and this larger structure is now just a mass of crumpled steel. Cars were blown across the 4-lane highway and others were stacked on each other. One employee was living adjacent to the shop in an RV. He survived the storm with only minor cuts and bruises despite the fact that the RV he was in was tossed around and flipped over.
This photo of the rubble remaining the day after the storm is evidence of it's destructive power!
Of course, this being the 'Volunteer State', there wasn't too much whining going on! Churches, neighbors, charities, schools, (including 20 members of the Maryville College Fighting Scotts football team), pitched in to help clean up and provide immediate assistance to the storm's victims.
This storm passed close enough to us that we hid out for a few minutes in our windowless interior closet where the plumbing from the bathrooms provide a little extra wall strength... Historically, the last damaging tornado in the area occurred in 1993 when one person was killed and 55 were injured. Apparently, property damage was much worse this time, (18 years later), but only 2 people were injured. In any case, this even provided more excitement than we needed, that's for sure!