Storm downs trees, power lines; boaters rescued

By Julie Fann
star staff

   An evening thunderstorm on Wednesday wiped out trees and power lines countywide and seriously damaged the roofs of two city buildings, according to authorities. Rescue workers also had to retrieve four people at Watauga Lake after the pontoon boat they were riding in turned over, spilling two of the passengers into the water.
   The storm hit around 5:45 p.m. with high winds and a wall of water that decreased visibility severely. Power went out in much of the area for well over one hour.
   "The power outage was pretty extensive from the west to the east. We had power lines down and trees, but no injuries reported," said Carter County Emergency Management Agency Director Ernest Jackson.
   Jackson said downed trees blocked roads near Watauga Avenue below Memorial Presbyterian Church, as well as on Garland Branch Road, Gap Creek Road, Clover Branch Road, and Smalling Road. The Carter County Sheriff's Department and area volunteer fire departments responded to downed trees at Smalling Road, he said.
   "On Riverside Drive in the Eastside Community, there was a tree that was uprooted by winds and several wrist-sized limbs were scattered out of trees," Jackson said. "It didn't look like it was a tornado really but probably just a straight line of hard wind that hit it."
   An unconfirmed sighting of a funnel cloud in Lynn Valley also uprooted a tree and completely destroyed it. A couple of homes in the county also were either damaged or completely destroyed by the storm.
   On Cedar Avenue, near Harold McCormick Elementary School, a man was trapped in his vehicle after power lines fell on top of it. Carter County EMS workers asked the man to stay in the car until they could determine whether or not the downed power lines were live or not. The man was unharmed, Jackson said.
   "The old Paty Lumber building also had some roof damage, and the roof came off of the Nunley building. I saw it laying in the parking lot," Jackson said.
   Jackson said the EMA Department will begin cleanup today, but he couldn't estimate how long it will take until he is able to assess the damage across the county.
   "Emergency personnel have responded excellently to this. I think people exercised caution this time. I didn't see too many sightseers. Usually, when something like this happens, there are those who want to see. Instead, it seemed like everybody came together and responded, and I was very proud of what I saw," he said.