published Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Storm leaves thousands without power in Chattanooga

  • Video: Weather damage
    The old Levin Brothers building on the corner of Mitchell and Main collapsed during an afternoon thunderstorm Monday that pounded much of the Chattanooga area.

Lauren Millard had just finished showering in the basement of her mother’s home when an earsplitting boom shook the house.

Terrified, the 22-year-old ran up the stairs to find tree branches bursting through the bedroom ceiling and covering her bed. Broken belongings were thrown across the room, and water was everywhere.

When she looked out the window of her Red Bank home, she saw the yard was on fire. The 30-year-old pine tree that crashed on top of her home had snapped electric wires that now were flaming and jumping across the street.

“I could smell the smoke inside the house,” she said. “I was so scared. I didn’t know what to do or where to go.”

In about 30 minutes, Monday’s storm surged across Hamilton County, leaving behind about 37,000 homes without power. Chattanooga’s Public Works Department was called to remove 48 downed trees and the back half of a downtown building collapsed.

By about 8 p.m. Monday, EPB officials reported that 20,000 homes were without power.

The storm turned from troublesome to tragic when 79-year-old Melvin Hambrick of Franklin County, Tenn., died after knocked down trees pinned him under his trailer, according to The Associated Press. An unidentified woman at the same location was taken by air ambulance to a hospital, a Franklin Sheriff’s Department spokesman said.

Winds of 60 to 70 miles per hour were likely to blame for much of the damage across the Chattanooga area, meteorologists said. Some Red Bank residents said they think the storm spawned a tornado in their town.

POWER OUTAGES

EPB officials warn residents to stay away from downed power lines.

To report a downed line or a power outage, contact EPB at 423-648-1372, report it online at www.epb.net, email cicweb@epb.net or send a direct message via Twitter at EPB_Chattanooga.

The National Weather Service couldn’t confirm tornado reports and officials plan to investigate the area this morning.

Strong winds were likely the cause of the collapse of the back half of the old Levin Brothers store facade on the corner of Main Street and Mitchell Avenue, said Bruce Garner, spokesman for the Chattanooga Police Department.

“We think it’s probably just part of the storm blowing through, but if it’s not connected, it’s an incredible coincidence,” Garner said.

The falling bricks took down at least one utility pole and three transformers, he said, but no one was injured in the incident.

Developer Jay Sliger had plans to renovate the old building into office and restaurant space, but he said the entire building must now be demolished in the next couple of days.

Fire crews were guarding the building Monday evening, keeping people away until EPB could shut off the power in the area nearby.

“Our main concern right now is people getting electrocuted, or the rest of the building coming down,” Garner said.

Around the county, crews spent the afternoon and evening clearing trees off downed power lines and out of roadways.

LOOKING AHEAD

• Today: Few clouds, cooler

High: 59 Low: 38

• Wednesday: Sunshine

High: 67 Low: 37

• Thursday: Partly cloudy, warmer

High: 68 Low: 44

• Friday: More clouds, maybe showers

High: 64 Low: 47

• Saturday: Showers, maybe storms

High: 65 Low: 37

• Sunday: Partly cloudy

High: 56 Low: 32

Source: WRCB meteorologist Paul Barys

Donald Kilgore said he has cleared lines for AT&T since 1997 and figured he was in for a long night of careful limb cutting.

“It depends on how bad it is and how big it is, really,” he said, preparing to climb into a cherry picker to saw limbs off a fallen tree. “When the sun goes down, it gets a little tough because you can’t see that good.”

Across Southeast Tennessee, North Georgia and Alabama there were scattered reports of storm damage.

High winds also blew the roof from a home in Dalton, Ga., and trees fell through another roof in the city, Whitfield County emergency management officials said. Much of the northern part of that county lost power, and outages were reported in Floyd County, as well, the AP reported.

In Bradley County, the Emergency Management Agency reported downed trees, power lines and a traffic signal on APD 40. The roof was blown off a barn near Black Fox Elementary School, EMA spokesman Matt Casson said.

There were also reports of wind damage at several industries in the Cleveland/Bradley Industrial Park around APD 40.

Both the Cleveland and Bradley County school systems delayed the end of school by half an hour Monday. Bus students were kept indoors. At some schools, waiting parents were invited to come inside to wait out the storm, several principals said.

The storm caused severe flooding across Tennessee, but no major damage or injuries were reported in northern Alabama.

By Joan Garrett, Kelli Gauthier and Carey O’Neil

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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