DELANO, Tenn. — The mood was hushed and solemn inside the Delano Community Farm Market in the Mennonite community in north Polk County.
Cold, wet and muddy, emergency officials told family members of their decision to halt the search for an adult and two children who went missing Wednesday after the canoe they were in capsized in Conasauga Creek.
The search was called off just after noon Thursday with plans to resume by noon today.
Rain pounded the roof, the tink-tink-tink of sleet pelting the tin and cars outside.
Emergency officials and a couple of members of Delano's Mennonite community spoke quietly, and one local man offered a prayer for the searchers and the family.
Teams from Polk, Bradley and McMinn counties will search again today in the area where six members of the same Mennonite family were paddling their canoe in the rain-swollen creek Wednesday evening.
After the canoe capsized, three family members, an adult and two children, made it out of the water. But another adult and two more children disappeared, said Stephen Lofty, Polk County Emergency Management Agency director and West Polk County Fire and Rescue chief.
No names or ages have been released.
Lofty told members of the family and community that officials decided to call off the search because weather forecasts were calling for up to 8 inches of snow on the mountains and as much as 5 inches in the valleys.
Searchers who had been canvassing both sides of Conasauga Creek since 6:30 a.m. Thursday were exhausted and suffering from exposure to the cold, Lofty said, and officials worried that some of them could become hypothermic as temperatures dropped. In the interest of safety, officials decided to halt the search.
On Thursday, emergency vehicles carried crews from point to point along the creek, passing members of the Mennonite community who grimly slogged along the gravel roads by horse and buggy or on foot.
Two darkly garbed men from the community spoke frequently with searchers who were using the farm market as a staging area.
Polk County Mayor Hoyt Firestone called Wednesday's incident "a tragedy."
"The Mennonite community here in Polk County is well known, and several of the families I know personally," Firestone said as he stood in the market where handmade signs reading "eggplant" and "radishes" hung over winter-empty vegetable bins.
"It's a real shock to the community, and I'm sure the grief that is spreading out among the Mennonites is significant," he said with a sad shake of his head.
Firestone said he hoped the search can be concluded soon so the community can begin to heal.
"It's just one of those freak accidents that you don't plan for. It's just a regrettable situation all over," the mayor said.
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 ...