GL&PS Says Power
To Be Out For Days;
County Is Declared
A Disaster Area
BY KEN LITTLE
As dawn broke today, the path of death and destruction wrought by suspected tornadoes and severe storms in sections of Greene County was revealed.
At least six deaths were confirmed by Thursday
"We're still doing search and rescue. We're counting on families to make sure they notify us," said Bill Brown, Greene County emergency management director.
There is major devastation in the Camp Creek area, Brown said. About 150 law enforcement officers, EMS personnel and others began search and rescue operations as soon as the sun came up.
"There's a lot of homes destroyed. We will stay in a search and rescue mode until everyone's accounted for. Then, we'll start damage assessment," Brown said.
Gov. Bill Haslam declared Greene County a disaster area this morning.
County Mayor Alan Broyles was monitoring the situation from an Emergency Operations Center set up at the former Crossroads grocery at Jones Bridge Road and Tennessee Rt. 107 (the 107 Cutoff).
'SO MUCH DEVASTATION'
"We've got a lot of teams in search and rescue here. They're still searching. There's just so much devastation and so much debris scattered around, and there's many places you can't tell where the houses were," Broyles said.
At least 85 weather-related injuries were reported, officials said.
Area hospital emergency rooms reported treating broken bones and other storm-related injuries.
Broyles was stunned this morning after touring the Camp Creek, Greystone and Horse Creek communities.
"You see pictures of it, you see things that have happened in other states and counties, but I've never seen anything like it in Greene County," he said.
"It's just total devastation, animals killed and lying in the fields. It's just a terrible sight. Trees snapped off, power lines snapped, there's power poles down everywhere," the mayor said.
A flood in 2001 was the last natural disaster to hit Greene County that even compares with the destruction caused by the storms that ripped though Greene County and the region.
"This is a lot more devastating because we have injuries and loss of life," Brown said.
Several longtime Greene Countians said Wednesday night and today that they could not recall any comparable natural disaster in the county.
ASSESSMENT BY NWS
At least two possible tornadoes were reported to have touched down in Greene County, according to the National Weather Service.
Five fatalities and numerous injuries resulted from a suspected tornado that touched down near Camp Creek at 10:56 p.m., according to the NWS.
There was "significant structural damage" in the path of the storm, the NWS reported.
Another possible tornado was reported by a trained spotter at 9:35 p.m., about 12 miles north-northeast of Greeneville.
Thunderstorm wind damage that took numerous trees down was reported at 8:45 p.m. in Mohawk. In Baileyton, hail one inch in diameter was reported.
NWS representatives will tour the storm-damaged area today to determine if the destruction was caused by tornadoes.
EMERGENCY OFFICIAL'S COMMENT
"This looks like a war zone anywhere this wind hit," Brown said. "It's just unbelievable. I've never seen anything like this."
Widespread power outages continue in South Greene.
Some of the fatalities were on Ricker Road in the Camp Creek community.
Mayor Broyles was talking with a reporter via cell phone when his vehicle came upon the Ricker Road scene.
"Oh my goodness, this looks like a war zone," Broyles said. "There's actually debris everywhere, some (houses) you can only see where the foundations were.
"There's debris everywhere," the mayor continued. I fear for the worst. I hope and pray there's no more.
"I can't describe the devastation."
MAJOR CHALLENGE FOR GL&PS
Some Greeneville Light & Power System customers will be without electricity for days, said General Manager Bill Carroll today.
About 5,000 customers were without power this morning in the area mainly on the mountain side of the 107 Cutoff, he said.
GL&PS customers from Horse Creek on the east to Sunnydale on the west are affected.
"Some poles are missing -- I mean missing," Carroll said.
He said he fears that 50 other poles have been broken. GL&PS crews worked through the night, Carroll said.
"This is going to be a big deal to get back up," Carroll said. "Lots of trees and wires are tangled up. The devastation is significant."
Carroll urged the public to be patient.
"This is going to be very slow," he said. "We'll be working as fast and as safely as possible."
At mid-morning today Carroll said the extent of the damage to power lines is larger than he first feared.
"It is going to be long. It's going to be expensive," Carroll said. "I am fearful we're going to greatly exceed 50 broken poles."
"Some people will be without power for days. We just don't know how many," he said.
Utility crews from Holston Electric Co-Op in Rogersville are coming to help out, along with three added crews from contractors, he said.
COUNTY SCHOOLS CLOSED
Greene County Schools were closed today due to widespread damage.
Reports also came in at 7:30 a.m. today that the WIKQ transmitter building located on Fish Pond Road was heavily damaged, and the station's broadcast tower was on the ground.
Reports from residents on Fish Pond Road had homes and barns damaged to varying degrees, power poles "twisted off" and trees down.
ROADS BLOCKED OFF
The Greene County Sheriff's Office strongly urges those who don't have business in the storm-ravaged area to stay away. Many roads will be blocked off.
Roads where extensive storm damage was reported include Ricker Road, Bishop Loop, Tabor Road, Rambo Road, Dunham Road, Morgan Branch Lane, the Morgan Creek area and the Greystone area.
"If you don't have any business there, stay out of the area," sheriff's Deputy David Beverly said.
DISASTER SHELTER AT ASBURY
As of this morning, the American Red Cross Disaster Shelter at Asbury United Methodist Church in Greeneville remained open.
At one point Wednesday night, there were 56 adults and 16 children in the former Andrew Johnson Building shelter in Greeneville
Others stayed in emergency shelters set up at West Greene High School and at First Baptist Church in Baileyton.
For the most part, Greeneville escaped the destruction that struck other sections of the county. Spot flooding was reported and police were kept busy answering activated alarms.
"We were very lucky," Greeneville Police Lt. Tim Hartman said.
The Chuckey Utility District is requesting that customers conserve water.
Electricity is out of service at the utility's Horse Creek pump station, which pumps water to the Horse Creek area.
The utility requests the help of customers in the meantime by using water only for necessities.
REPORTS FROM THE SCENE
The parking lot of the Valero gasoline service station at the corner of Jones Bridge Road and Tennessee Rt. 107 was packed with cars early this morning as emergency personnel from all local organizations appeared to be on hand -- the Sheriff's Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Greeneville Emergency & Rescue Squad, American Red Cross, and volunteer fire departments.
Sheriff Steve Burns said that he had been in the area "ever since it happened" and that he had as many as 200 volunteers there during the night. He sent everyone home to get some rest, then come back.
By around 7:30 a.m., his personnel had escorted 25 to 30 family members to the home addresses of people they have been unable to reach.
His message to the public is that, if someone has a family member "they can't contact that they think they should be able to reach," to go to the Valero station.
"If they can't get here, they can call in," Burns said.
ANXIOUS WAIT, SAD NEWS
Among those waiting to hear about a loved one were mother and daughter Margie and Shanna Richesin. They were concerned about Shanna's "papaw," J.L. Richesin of Rambo Road.
Around 7:30 a.m., Shanna knew it didn't "look good," and her fears were realized a few minutes later.
Shanna Richesin had been trying to reach her grandfather since midnight. Margie Richesin said that the Sheriff''s Department had been great, calling back and staying in touch with them.
Early this morning, Shanna's uncle, Mike Richesin, accompanied rescue personnel to the home on Rambo Road.
Shanna said she had been told the house was leveled and her grandfather's cell phone was found in the yard, ringing as they were still trying to call him.
Margie and Shanna's wait ended with news via a cell phone call a few minutes before 8 a.m., that J.L. Richesin had not survived.
Others were arriving at the same time, anxious for news of their family members.
"We don't have stuff like this here. This is something you see on TV.
"We think we're protected because we've got mountains here -- at least that's been a long-standing myth," Shanna reflected.
WAITING AND HOPING
Tracy Kilday and her mother Sarah Norton, had had word that their sister and daughter, Violet Price, had made it safely to a neighbor's house, but they were concerned about two of Mrs. Norton's brothers, George and Jack Gunter.
One lives near Camp Creek School and the other on Red Hill Road.
"I just hope that they are all right. We never know, do we?" Mrs. Norton said. She lives on Old Jonesborough Road in Chuckey.
'WORST I'VE EVER SEEN'
Volunteers with the Orebank and Tusculum Volunteer Fire Departments were among those who had been there, left and returned. They were milling around the parking lot, waiting for instructions.
Nick Combs, who has been with the Orebank VFD for 11 years said, "This is the worst I've ever seen -- there's trees, lines, sheet metal and tin laying around everywhere."
Wayne Kelton, a constable from "in town," said he had been at the Operations Center since 7 p.m. Wednesday. He spent the night changing flat tires - three on cruisers and one on an ambulance.
Staff writers Rich Jones, Velma Southerland, Wayne Phillips and Joe Byrd contributed to this report.