published Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

2 Bledsoe tornadoes confirmed

National Weather Service officials believe that one of the two twisters that touched down in the Graysville-New Harmony community of Bledsoe County had winds of about 180 mph, making it an EF4.

Although officials still are collecting data, “I do believe there was another separate tornado in Bledsoe County,” said David Hotz, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn.

The tornadoes killed four in the area known as Pitts Gap at the top of Brayton Mountain.

The update from the weather service agrees with the assessment made last week by Regional Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Justin Jackson.

Just hours after the storms, Jackson took a flight over the storm path and described what he thought were side-by-side tracks of two twisters. He said the twin paths appeared to have crossed or collided along New Harmony Road as they spun north from Pitts Gap toward state Highway 30.

Shelba Smith, 69, a Pitts Gap resident for 51 years, said her home and her family members’ homes mostly were spared by the giant funnel clouds that killed four of her neighbors April 27.

“We only lost two trees, but from half a mile up on to the top of the mountain, it’s just totally destroyed,” Smith said.

Many of her neighbors’ homes and businesses were obliterated, Smith said.

“We’re tough out here, though,” she said. “We’re handling it. I’m proud of all these neighbors who have lost everything. They’re just worried about everybody else.”

The EF4 tornado cut a 22-mile track that began north of Dunlap in Sequatchie County and ripped its way northeast to the Rhea-Bledsoe county line, Hotz said Tuesday.

As officials continue to study the storm paths, he said he “wouldn’t be surprised if some of these paths didn’t start as far south as Marion County.”

To the south, weather service officials say two tornadoes left paths in Sequatchie County. Hotz said the first tornado was an EF1 with winds of 100 mph, and the second was an EF2 with winds of 120 mph.

Hotz said weather service officials will continue to study the storm paths in the coming days as new and updated information comes in.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at 423-757-6569 or

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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