published Friday, April 29th, 2011

Bledsoe County Area: 4 killed

Linda R. Smith crouched in the hallway of her New Harmony Road home in Bledsoe County. The lights flickered just before the power went out.

Then it hit.

A rumbling roar announced the storm’s arrival and the air filled with debris and the sound of rending wood and wind.

“Everything happened so fast,” Smith, 66, said Thursday morning as she tried to clear away debris to find her belongings.

At the height of the storm, the winds wrapped tin roofing material around the trees surrounding Smith’s house like foil gum wrappers. Wooden boards blasted from buildings on a nearby farm stabbed into the ground and through the back wall of her house.

“I was just praying, ‘Please stop. Please stop,’” Smith said. “It was unreal,”

But she feels pretty lucky.

“I’m still alive and these people down through here, I mean there was five that went to the hospital — and a 6-month-old baby — and Phillip Wooden was found down in the woods and his whole home was torn apart,” Smith said.

Wooden and his son, Riley, were OK, she said.

As the third wave of Wednesday’s deadly supercell thunderstorms bore down on Sequatchie Valley, Vonnie Jackson, her son and 15-year-old daughter left their New Harmony mobile home for her mother’s house.

When she returned Thursday, she found devastation instead of her home.

“I was thankful I wasn’t home,” said the 46-year-old Jackson.

Now, the only thing she can do is “start over.”

“I have my mother to live with, so the three of us will stay with her,” she said.

Her son, 11-year-old Anthony Sullivan, was silent as he reflected on what he thought when he first saw his home Thursday morning. His face was grim and his eyes shiny with unspoken emotion.

“I don’t know what to think,” Anthony said, finally.

His piano was fine Wednesday when he last saw it, but on Thursday, “we found it but it doesn’t play,” he said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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