2 dead as violent storm lashes Great Smokies

Associated Press
A camper's SUV drives by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance as a more than mile-long convoy of vehicles is lead out of the popular tourist spot near Townsend, Tenn., on Friday, July 6, 2012, a day after violent thunderstorms swept through, killing at least two people. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)
.

View gallery

TOWNSEND, Tenn. (AP) — Crews spent Friday clearing trees and reaching stranded visitors at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, a day after violent thunderstorms swept through the popular tourist spot, killing at least two people and injuring several others.

The storms hit Thursday evening at the west end of the 500,000-acre, densely forested reserve on the Tennessee-North Carolina line. The storms then moved down the mountains to the Tennessee River Valley.

At Abrams Creek Campground, a tree fell into a swimming hole, killing 41-year-old Rachael Burkhart, of Corryton, Tenn., park officials said.

The same tree struck a family, including a 7-year-old girl, who was unconscious when pulled from the water, but revived after her mother performed CPR. The father suffered vertebrae fractures, multiple broken ribs and a collapsed lung and the mother was injured less seriously.

Carole Cooper came upon the scene when she was returning to her private cabin nearby after swimming with friends.

Campers helped bring the 7-year-old to Cooper's SUV, where Cooper performed first aid. Meanwhile Cooper's friends, one of whom is a physician, went to the creek to try to help Burkhart and the girl's father.

Cooper used her OnStar satellite communications service to call for help, but with the roads blocked, emergency workers had to walk in to the campsite, she said. Her vehicle became a makeshift command post as the rescue workers used her OnStar to communicate with other first responders.

"We were many hours with the injured because we couldn't get them out," she said.

After about four or five hours, enough trees had been cleared that emergency workers could drive Cooper's SUV partway out of the park, but they still had to walk the injured on stretchers to waiting ambulances.

The girl and her father were airlifted to a Knoxville hospital. Their conditions were not available Friday.

Also killed in the park was Ralph Frazier, 50, of Buford, Ga., who was riding a motorcycle when a falling limb struck him in the head, park officials said. His passenger was uninjured.

Most of the damage appeared to be in the popular Cades Cove area of the park and in communities just outside the park boundaries.

"At Cades Cove we had three medical emergencies, we had a cardiac involving a woman, we had a man struck by a tree who sustained a back injury and we had a third male who was injured by shattered windshield glass when the vehicle was struck by a tree," Chief Ranger Clayton Jordan said. "It took us up to six hours to be able to gain access for ambulances to get into Cades Cove and evacuate the injured there."

On Friday, the first priority was to establish an emergency path to reach stranded vehicles.

"All through the night we were finding these pockets of stranded motorists and freeing them up" he said. Rangers also were trying to account for all the occupants of the unoccupied vehicles they found along the roads and checking back-country camping permits.

"We're trying to work through all of those to make sure we don't have anyone still out there unaccounted for," he said. ..."We don't have any reports of anyone in distress or any reports of overdue campers at this point."

Marc Elder, of Winter Haven, Fla., was at Cades Cove with his children for a day hike when the storm hit, and they ended up getting stranded in his vehicle for about five hours. Given the destruction of the storm, he said it was amazing the wait was so short.

"We literally drove through just a tunnel of debris with trees across the road and over it," he said.

Linda Nguyen, a producer at WATE-TV in Knoxville, was at Cades Cove working on a special program about the Smokies when the storm hit and she also got stuck inside the park.

"There were thousands of trees that had fallen," she said. "It looked like a tornado had touched down. ...It was really kind of scary because there were areas where we were parked under downed trees that were still hanging. We thought, 'If one more storm comes through, we're going to get crushed.'"

Meanwhile, others, like Eric Breidenstein, his wife and five children, including 1-year-old twins, were trapped outside the park with only a couple of diapers after going into town for dinner.

The family spent the night in an emergency shelter set up at Tuckaleechee United Methodist Church in the small town of Townsend, which bills itself as "the backdoor to Cades Cove."

On Friday afternoon, they were waiting to go back into the park to collect their belongings.

"All our stuff is there," he said. "Well, we don't know whether it's there or whether something happened to it."

Sandy Headrick, who has owned the Highland Manor Inn in Townsend for 30 years, said the storm was very unusual in that it blew out of the north and east. The wind usually comes out of the west, she said.

"There was a lot of rain, a lot of wind. A lot of people lost power," she said.

"We had some friends who had a tree hit their home," she said. "They're all right, but the house is gone. It came through the roof and took out the kitchen, the bedroom, the living room."

Although multiple injuries were reported in the park, Headrick said she believes everyone in the town is OK.

"Everyone's out picking up branches and pulling tree limbs out of their pools. ... We got a lot of cleanup to do."

National Weather Service meteorologist Derek Eisentrout in Morristown said Friday that the severe heat that has gripped the region set up the intensity of the storms that struck Thursday.

"It was so hot and began to get humid," Eisentrout said. "The storms had a pool of cold air, which met up with that hot, humid air."

The same storm system killed a child and her grandmother in Chattanooga when high winds overturned a 30-foot double-decker pontoon boat she was on in Chickamauga Lake.

Dan Hicks, spokesman for the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, said the other 10 people on the boat survived.

In Blount County, a woman had to be rescued from her car when a tree blew down onto the vehicle.

___

Associated Press reporters Travis Loller and Lucas Johnson III contributed to this report from Nashville.

Sorry you didn't like this comment. Please provide a reason below.

Are you sure?
Rating failed. Try again.
Request failed. Try again.
We will promote constructive and witty comments to the top, so everyone sees them!
Sorry, we can’t load comments right now. Try again.

    Recommended for You

    • The Latest: Watchdog group says it will sue President Trump

      WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on President Donald Trump (all times EST):

      Associated Press
    • 12 bodies found in Mexican tourist town: officials

      A dozen bodies -- including seven that were headless and mutilated -- were discovered over the weekend in western Mexico's seaside resort of Manzanillo, apparent victims of the country's epidemic of drug violence, local officials said. It was a shocking turn of events for an area popular with American and other foreign tourists, which until now had largely been spared from the bloody drug wars wracking other parts of Mexico. Seven bodies were found early Saturday in an abandoned taxi on the road from Manzanillo to the town of Cihuatlan.

      AFP
    • Royals' Ventura killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

      Yordano Ventura quit school as a teenager so he could begin working a construction job to help his family make ends meet, laboring day after day in the hot sun of the Dominican Republic. It was a chance ...

      Associated Press
    • 1 dead, multiple injured San Antonio shopping mall shooting

      SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A robbery inside a San Antonio shopping mall ended with shots fired on Sunday, leaving one person who tried to intervene dead, three others shot and another two people taken to hospital with non-shooting injuries, police and fire officials said.

      Associated Press
    • Smoggy Lunar New Year expected in northern China

      China expects a smoggy Lunar New Year in Beijing and its northern industrial heartland just two weeks after it was blanketed in toxic smog which caused traffic chaos, flight disruptions and port closures. Worsening pollution will engulf four northern Chinese provinces, including Hebei province which surrounds Beijing, in the run up to the Lunar New Year, from Monday through to Thursday, China's National Environment Monitoring Center said on its official WeChat account late on Sunday. After a slight respite on Jan. 27, the air quality is predicted to deteriorate again on Jan. 28, the day of the Lunar New Year, with middle to high level air pollution and patches of severe smog across the region.

      Reuters
    • US Gas Prices Drop a Cent Over 2 Weeks to $2.36 a Gallon

      The average price of a gallon of regular-grade gasoline fell just over 1 cent nationally during the past two weeks, to $2.36

      ABC News q
    • Chelsea Clinton Says Barron Trump Deserves the Chance to Be a Kid

      Chelsea Clinton knows firsthand that growing up in the political spotlight can be tough, and now she’s standing up for President Donald Trump‘s 10-year-old son Barron

      People
    • Mexico mass grave contains remains of 56 people: statement

      A mass grave discovered in northern Mexico almost a year ago contains the remains of 56 people, a state attorney general's office said on Sunday. A forensic team has so far identified the remains of 24 people in the grave, which is at the foot of a hill in the municipality of Garcia, in the Monterrey area. All of those people had disappeared in 2010, the attorney general's office of the state of Nuevo Leon said in a statement.

      Reuters
    • 'Droneboarding' takes off in Latvia

      Two snowboarders gripping them glide across the ice, pulled along by the drone before performing a series of high-speed turns and slides. The drone prototype is the work of Latvian specialists Aerones and they are putting their invention through its paces, with up to four snowboarders being dragged across the ice at a time. "It seems to be a successful test," says Janis Putrams, 35, wearing a broad grin, not least because as Aerones CEO he is in charge of the enormous remote control unit used to steer the drone's flight.

      AFP
    • Twitter roasts Trump aide for calling lies 'alternative facts'

      In the world of fake news, now we also have "alternative facts."  On Saturday, President Donald Trump's first full day in office, his press secretary Sean Spicer held a press conference in which he falsely claimed that the previous day's crowd was the "largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period." SEE ALSO: Inauguration crowds are looking puny compared to Women's March crowds Spicer's false remarks instantly became a new meme and sent the internet into a fury. On Sunday, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, appeared on NBC's Meet The Press , where Chuck Todd grilled the Trump administration for spreading falsehoods on their first full day in office. In response, Conway called the falsehoods "alternative facts." "Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods," Chuck Todd tells Pres. Trump's counselor Kellyanne Conway this morning. WATCH: pic.twitter.com/Ao005dQ13r — Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) January 22, 2017 Yes. Alternative facts. No, you aren't living in an alternative reality, this is real life.  The hashtag #AlternativeFacts quickly started trending on Twitter Sunday morning. Do you want your pilot using #alternativefacts about speed or altitude? — Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) January 22, 2017 President Trump was honored to have Prince and David Bowie perform at his inauguration. Springsteen cried. So jealous. #alternativefacts — Sean Spiceboy Spicer (@DatSpiceBoy) January 22, 2017 I'm using #alternativefacts on my bank loan application tomorrow.    — Robert Graves (@RggnycRobert) January 22, 2017 Wow #alternativefacts. This is so frightening. This is the scariest part of Trumps Presidency. When facts don't matter anymore we all lose. — Tracy Hardaway (@TracyMHardaway) January 22, 2017 I just saw Conway speak about #AlternativeFacts and I'm so completely disgustedNo, the worlds has facts. You don't get to create the truth — Shaun King (@ShaunKing) January 22, 2017 There is no racism. #AlternativeFacts — Judith Browne Dianis (@jbrownedianis) January 22, 2017 So now there is #alternativefacts....Oh.....ok. pic.twitter.com/oVxmLw0hQk — Benjamin Di'Costa (@BenjaminDiCosta) January 22, 2017 I have a mandate from the people. I care about you. I have divested from my businesses.I have the biggest crowds.#alternativefacts — Unpresidented (@UnpresidentedAF) January 22, 2017 In addition to Spicer complaining about the media's coverage of crowd size, Trump also complained during a briefing at the CIA headquarters on Saturday. "We had a massive field of people. You saw that. Packed," said Trump. "I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, they show an empty field. I said, wait a minute, I made a speech. I looked out, it looked like a million, a million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there." There is no official estimate of the crowd size on inauguration day, but there are some simple facts to prove it wasn't "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration." According to the Washington Post , the D.C. Metro's ridership was "lower than that of an average weekday." About 570,557 people rode the Metro on Friday vs 1.1 million who rode it in 2009 during Obama's inauguration. According to Nielson, 31 million viewers watched the inauguration on TV, which is lower than both Obama and Ronald Reagan's first inaugurations. Spicer also claimed that magnetometers were used on the National Mall for Trump's inauguration and prevented "hundreds of thousands of people from being able to access the mall as quickly as they had in years past." A Secret Service spokesperson told CNN that magnetometers were not used during the inauguration. A USSS spokesperson tells us no magnetometers were used on the National Mall for Trump's inauguration. — Jim Acosta (@Acosta) January 22, 2017 The floor coverings Spicer mentioned, that was also a lie. Or, ya know, alternative facts.  BONUS: Obama 'Hope' artist has a new set of powerful posters

      Mashable
    • Who is departing Gambian ruler Yahya Jammeh?

      JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Who is defeated Gambian ruler Yahya Jammeh, and how did he spark a political crisis?

      Associated Press
    • 2 suspects in custody in deadly San Antonio mall shooting

      Two suspects were taken into custody after a robbery inside a shopping mall ended in a shooting that left one man dead and several other people injured, San Antonio police said. Police Chief William McManus ...

      Associated Press
    • China to prosecute former Tianjin mayor for suspected graft

      China will prosecute the former mayor of the northern city of Tianjin for suspected graft, the state prosecutor said on Sunday, taking a step that will almost certainly result in his conviction. Dozens of senior people have been investigated or jailed since President Xi Jinping assumed power four years ago, vowing to root out corruption, warning, like others before, that the problem threatens the Communist Party's grip on power. The party announced in September the investigation into Huang Xingguo, who had been mayor of the important port city - about an hour from Beijing - since 2008.

      Reuters
    • Spain Sees 500 Southern Border Crossing Attempts in a Month

      Spanish police say migrants have attempted close to 500 illegal border crossings in just one month by trying to hide on passenger and cargo boats landing on its southern coast

      ABC News q
    • Missile failure off Florida? British leader won't say

      LONDON (AP) — The British government is being accused of concealing the failure of an unarmed ballistic missile launch ahead of a debate in Parliament over whether to refurbish the country's aging Trident nuclear launching system.

      Associated Press
    • Death toll at Italian hotel hit by avalanche rises to six, 23 still missing

      Italian rescue workers have found the dead body of a man in the wreckage of the hotel in central Italy that was buried in an avalanche last week, the Italian fire service said on Sunday, with 23 people were still missing as the search operation continues. "At Hotel Rigopiano, at 1645 CET, the fire brigade located the dead body of one of the missing people," the fire service said in a Tweet. The death toll stands at six, with 23 people still missing, Paolo Molinari from the Civil Protection agency said.

      Reuters
    • Gavin Rossdale Opens Up About Divorce From Gwen Stefani

      Gavin Rossdale opens up about relationship with ex-wife Gwen Stefani

      People
    • Trump, amid combative start, pledges to rise to moment

      WASHINGTON (AP) — After a combative start to his presidency, Donald Trump delivered a more unifying message Sunday and sought to reassure Americans he was ready to begin governing a divided nation.

      Associated Press
    • 1 dead, 6 injured in shooting at San Antonio, Texas mall

      At least one person is dead and six others are injured after police in San Antonio, Texas responded to an active shooting scene at Rolling Oaks Mall on Sunday afternoon.

      WABC – NY