City cleans up after storm clobbers area

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Robert Gentry was watching television at his West I Street residence Wednesday evening when he saw warnings of severe weather headed toward some areas of Northeast Tennessee.
   Little did he expect the coming storm knew where he lived. Gentry and his wife Evelyn watched from their screened in back porch as high winds uprooted a tall walnut tree and sent it crashing across the backyard narrowly missing the house.
   "I bet the wind was 60 or 70 miles per hour," said Gentry. "It beat all I've ever seen."
   The tree narrowly missed Gentry's back porch as branches tore the screen netting but did not damage the structure. The walnut tree was not anchored by a taproot but was held by a divergent root system that could be seen beneath the ground.
   "I just thank God it didn't hit the porch," he said.
   One day after violent storms shook, rattled, and rolled the Tri-Cities area, Elizabethton residents spent Thursday clearing yards and gutters of leaves and tree branches that were snapped by high winds.
   The roof of Nunley's Uptown furniture store was split and peeled off by the wind. Business owner Bill Nunley said a temporary covering would be placed on the building with a new roof expected within three to four days.
   "This is about the worst I've seen it and I've been here about 49 years," Nunley said.
   Broken tree limbs were strewn along the McDonald's property bordering Lynn Avenue. Tree branches and limbs littered yards and sidewalks around downtown Elizabethton including Blackbottom and the "letter" streets from West B Street into West I and J streets.
   City street department workers spent Thursday removing trees limbs from sidewalks and city streets. City crews pruned two damaged trees near the Elizabethton Church of Christ Thursday morning after the storm splintered one tree and snapped limbs in another near the church building. The storm knocked out power to the church roughly 45 minutes before the Wednesday night service began, according to church member Willie Holsclaw.
   "The power was off until about 7:30 p.m.," said Holsclaw, who along with his brothers were assisting city crews removing tree debris Thursday. "It came back on while we were having church."
   Thousands of Carter County residents lost power as a result of the storm. Hardest hit were the areas of Piney Flats, Watauga, Biltmore and Elizabethton's downtown area, according to EES general manager Phil Isaacs.
   "We had a lot of line damage last night," said Isaacs who estimated 8,000 to 10,000 EES customers were without power at the height of the outage.
   Power lines were downed across the county while four utility poles were brought down by the weather, Isaacs said. Power was restored to the system's service areas by midnight although smaller outages remained around the county. Less than 100 customers were without power through noon Thursday he said.
   Gentry was not alone among residents of West I Street who felt the storm's fury. A tree located in the side yard of Thurman Campbell of 222 W. I St. knocked out electricity and utility lines to his residence. Elizabethton Fire Department and Elizabethton Electric System responded to the scene, cutting power to the house.
   "We're waiting on the insurance adjuster now," said Campbell.
   Gentry's next-door neighbor, Mike Honeycutt, said the storm hit while the First Church of the Nazarene was holding bible school classes across the street.
   "We got lucky," said Honeycutt whose property sustained minor damage to a flower trellis.
   The National Weather Service reported winds reached 70 miles per hour in some areas. Portions of Sullivan County near the Bloomingdale area of Kingsport sustained heavy damage. The NWS had forecast a chance of showers and thunderstorms for Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia on Thursday night into Friday.