published Saturday, July 13th, 2013

When the mountain came to town

  • photo
    Muddy footprints are seen on the sidewalk Thursday along Cedar Avenue in South Pittsburg.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
    enlarge photo

Mother Nature is reminding us of our place again.

And this time, with some help from an unreclaimed development, she threw in some nasty tricks.

The tiny town of South Pittsburg, Tenn. -- population 3,106 -- in Marion County wasn't just flooded Wednesday night: It was bombarded with mud, rocks and boulders washing down from South Pittsburg Mountain after 3 to 5 inches of rain fell in two to three hours.

People there told Times Free Press reporter Ben Benton that the town's quaint downtown became a raging torrent that blasted through homes and buildings and piled up cars along with telephone poles, mud and rocks.

Fortunately no one was seriously injured. But their property was.

The region's well-known staple store for farmers and hunters, Hammer's, had a lake of muddy water six inches deep in one section of the nearly block-sized business.

Large sections of pavement on Second and Third streets were lifted and carried into yards.

South Pittsburg lost three patrol cars and three bridges and its City Hall was flooded.

Floors in the cafeteria, hallways and gymnasium of the elementary school were damaged. Residents on the first floor of the Chester Powell Senior Living Apartment Complex had to be evacuated.

But to get state or federal help, the damage must reach a $8.5 million threshold, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency officials told the townspeople Friday. By their preliminary estimate, the tally might not reach that high.

Mayor Jane Dawkins, who also is a Marion County commissioner, said the runoff might have hit harder because cleared land on the mountain had not been reclaimed. That meant the only thing keeping rain-driven mud and rock from rushing to the Tennessee River was downtown South Pittsburg.

Mother Nature does have rules, and one of them is to pay attention to what we are doing to her -- and ourselves.

Our thoughts are with the town and townspeople of South Pittsburg today. Volunteers can call City Hall at 423-837-5000.

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