Elk Valley Times Staff Report
Two people were killed, a school severely damaged and an untold number of homes either leveled or substantially impacted by a EF-3 tornado shortly after 8 p.m. Monday night. The storm cut a path through the eastern quadrant of the county, the area between U.S. Highway 64 and the Tennessee-Alabama state line, leaving approximately 11,000 homes without power.
“From the east side of 64 to the state line, Lincoln County is torn all to hell,” said Lincoln County Sheriff Murray Blackwelder in the wake of what are believed to be three tornadoes that touched down Monday evening. The National Weather Services has yet to confirm those.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to be in Lincoln County Wednesday to view devastation first-hand, said Lincoln County Mayor Peggy Bevels, adding that officials continue to assess the impact of Monday evening’s tornadoes that touched town in eastern and southeastern Lincoln County.
The two killed have been identified as John and Karen Prince, ages 60 and 44, respectively.
“There are people in the air now assessing the damage,” said Bevels.
According to the National Weather Service office in Huntsville, the damage was caused by a strong EF-3 tornado, with peak wind speeds at 160 miles per hour. It was 500 yards wide and traveled 15.7 miles on the ground. According to NWS, an EF-3 tornado is classified as “strong” and consists of winds between 136-165mph.
Fayetteville Public Utilities is also heavily involved in the restoration process and will be making announcements as well.
“I would like to thank everyone who has expressed an offer to help, not only locally but from other counties and statewide offices as well,” said Bevels.
The three tornadoes came back-to-back, all within 45 minutes of each other, said the sheriff, adding that the area has been “shut down” or closed to all traffic except emergency responders and essential personnel.
Responders continued to clear roadways and comb through debris overnight but the full extent of the widespread damage wasn’t realized until sunrise Tuesday.
The school severely damaged — South Lincoln Elementary — won’t re-open this year, said Dr. Wanda Shelton, director of the Lincoln County School System, noting that a school bus was picked up by one of the twisters and sent through the school’s front office. Three-fourths of the school’s roof is now gone, according to officials.
Nearby Flintville Elementary School did not appear to have any damage according to early assessments, said Shelton, noting that the lack of power hampered a thorough check.
Students were released from school early Monday in an effort to avoid threats posed by the anticipated outbreak, which had been forecast by meteorologists over the last several days. All local schools were closed Tuesday as well.
When schools do re-open here, the big question will be the placement of the 600 children who attended South Lincoln Elementary, said Shelton.
Officials with the National Weather Service are in Lincoln County now to conduct surveys to determine the strength and paths of the twisters, according to Kathy Hovis, deputy director of the Lincoln County Emergency Management Agency.
Fayetteville Public Utilities’ crews were also working through the night Monday in an effort to restore power to as many homes as possible. Half of the system’s customers lost power. Not only were substations knocked out, but powerlines were also downed and utility poles snapped by the tornadoes.
“We want to ask folks to please stay out of the areas impacted,” said Britt Dye, FPU chief executive officer and general manager, by cell as he worked along with utility crews and staff through the night. “It’s a big mess out here, and there are a lot of lines that could still be energized … We don’t want anyone hurt.
“We’re moving as fast as we can, but there will be some areas that will take bulldozers to get to,” he said.
Hovis echoed Dye’s remarks, asking that folks stay out of the impacted areas — “It’s hard enough for responders to work and do what they need to, without having to stop to ensure the safety of onlookers coming into the impacted areas,” she said.
Center is collection point for tornado
A collection point has been established at the Tullahoma Events Center, 205 NW Atlantic St., for debris from this week’s tornados that struck Franklin and Lincoln counties.
Items will be collected from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 3. Anyone finding mementos from Monday’s tornadoes are asked to save them. If they are wet, they can be placed in a home freezer overnight to dry and prevent mold.
Items of particular importance are photographs, wedding albums and wedding dresses, christening dresses, birth certificates, wills, passports, driver’s licenses, insurance papers, deeds, wedding bands, other jewelry, stuffed animals and dolls, photo negatives, computer thumb drives, portable hard drives, and any other items which could be difficult to replace.
TUB sends crews to assist with storm damage
Tullahoma Utilities Board sent a small, 4-man crew Tuesday to Athens, Alabama, to assist in the repair of utility poles and electrical lines following Monday’s line of severe storms that pummeled much of the southeast.
Kyle Riddle, Cameron Denney, Steven Mantooth, and David Myers left Tullahoma Tuesday to assist in the recover and repair of approximately 200 broken poles and their associated downed power lines. The damaged area has about 40,000 meters and is a fellow Tennessee Valley Public Power Association utility.
The crew was sent as part of the Mutual Aid Assistance Program, according to TUB Fiber and Electric Manager Brian Coate.
In the past, TUB has sent multiple crews to assist utilities in the event of heavy storm damage. Luckily, Tullahoma saw minimal damage from Monday’s storms.
Coffee County damage
The National Weather Service placed Tullahoma and Coffee County under a tornado warning due to the movement of a system that moved out of Lincoln County into Moore County and was headed in a path that would place it in Tullahoma and Manchester, but that storm did not hold together as it crossed into Coffee County.
However, the storm did produce strong winds and some temporary flooding in low lying areas. “What was strange was the Weather Service in Huntsville detected a debris ball that formed in Lincoln County and rose up to 20,000 feet. Some of that debris landed here in Coffee County,” Coffee County Emergency Management Agency Director Allen Lendley explained. “There were people in Manchester finding letters and other material belonging to people in Lincoln County.”
Lendley stated that there was a house on Darnell Drive that was struck by lightning and a tree fell on a house on Ovoca Road. There were also reports of trees being down on Carter Blake Road, Linda Lane and Flowertown Road, but there were no serious injuries reported.