published Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Chattanooga and Tennessee region feels Sandy's impact

Sandy
HOW TO HELP

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East Tennessee was only on the fringes of superstorm Sandy's wrath, but the storm left its mark as snow rapidly piled up in higher elevations.

The last week of October is usually when visitors come to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to admire the last traces of fall color, but the red and gold leaves were buried under inches and, in higher elevations, feet of snow blown in from the storm that has battered the Northeast.

By early Tuesday evening, more than 2 feet of snow had buried Newfound Gap, a mountain pass between Tennessee and North Carolina, according to national park public affairs officer Molly Schroer.

The average snowfall for the park in October is between 1 and 2 inches, Schroer said. But the sudden arrival of wintry weather has not deterred some hikers, she said.

"We've posted signs across the backcountry, warning folks about the storm. Some have canceled their permits, but many have still gone out there," Schroer said. "Others want the roads to open back up because they want to go play in the snow."

Paul Barys, chief meteorologist with WRCB-TV Channel 3, said the snowfall should peter out by this morning as the storm pulls off to the north.

"We had all this moisture from the storm as the storm intensified, and then cold air from the front that had already moved in got thrown into it -- like throwing gasoline into a fire," Barys said. "It was a huge storm, and we're just on the edge of it."

Though the Chattanooga area stayed dry through the storm, winds whipped up by Sandy blew through the region at 31 mph on Monday and at 28 mph on Tuesday, Barys said.

The storm also affected area businesses, forcing local trucking companies U.S. Xpress and Covenant Transport to reroute tractor-trailers away from the coastline.

Though the Chattanooga Airport had to cancel a nonstop flight between Chattanooga and Washington, D.C., all other flights continued as scheduled, the airport reported.

LOCALS HELP OUT

As the grim forecasts grew more urgent over the weekend, Chattanooga-based emergency response and recovery crews began mobilizing to the East Coast.

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Disaster Medical Assistance Team, which is made up of local health care professionals, now is staging near New York. The group is equipped with supplies to work in devastated areas with no power.

The East Tennessee Region of the American Red Cross has sent an emergency response vehicle to Virginia and New Jersey, where volunteers will fan into neighborhoods that have lost power to bring warm meals and water, said David Hartsoe, emergency services specialist for the Chattanooga-based chapter.

"Those volunteers commit to 21-day deployment, and some may stay longer," he said.

Other volunteers are on standby to head out as needed, Hartsoe said. About 40 volunteers from Eastern Tennessee were deployed to help in the wake of Hurricane Isaac. Hartsoe expects even more to help with the mess Sandy has left behind.

EPB released 54 workers to contract with utilities in the Northeast to help get crippled electrical grids back up and running, according to the utility's spokeswoman Danna Bailey.

"We try to send them whenever we can," Bailey said. "After the April 27 [2011] tornadoes, we got crews from 19 states. We had hundreds of crews helping us. So we try to reciprocate whenever we can."

She said it is too early to tell if more crews would be requested to help in the mammoth effort to bring power back to millions of people across the Northeast.

Other locals have tried to find ways to help from home. The Tennessee Train Women's Football Organization is holding a disaster drive on Saturday at Central High School from noon to 4 p.m. and is looking for donations of water, non-perishable food, diapers and wipes.

"We were just seeing that the hurricane was so bad, and talked about how we need to help people up there," said Thomas Schullo, who is helping organize the drive.

Schullo said the group hopes to work with emergency management agencies in the Northeast to see where items are needed most and see if they can find a trucking company to help them deliver supplies.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@times freepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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