The Associated Press is reporting that severe thunderstorms killed two people in the Smokies and two more in Chattanooga on Thursday night. One very powerful storm tore through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Townsend, Tennessee.
Much of the park is still in disarray. Abrams Creek campground is still closed as of Sunday night, along with parts of Little River Rd., Rich Mtn. Rd., Parsons Branch Rd., Tremont Rd., and Abrams Creek Entrance Rd. For more specific and updated info about closings, visit the NPS webpage or call (865) 436-1200.
According to a news release by the Public Affairs Office of the Smoky Mountains, two people were killed after the storm hit the west end of the park. Ralph Frazier of Buford, Georgia was riding a motorcycle near the Townsend Wye when he was struck by a falling tree limb. He died at the scene, but a passenger on the motorcycle was not injured. Rachel Burkhart, of Corryton, Tennessee, was killed after being stuck by a falling tree in the Abrams Creek area of the park. She died at the scene, as well.
There were other severe injuries, including a 7-year-old girl who was struck by the same tree as Burkhart while swimming in Abrams Creek. Her father was injured as well. Both were flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, but updates on their conditions have not been released yet.
As many as 500 campers weathered the storm. One family, the Hackers, were teaching their 12-year-old son to fly fish when the storm blew in. The family was able to get into a car, but were stranded overnight in the park. Together with about 20 others, they gathered firewood and banded together, since the temperatures dropped dramatically that night.
At its peak, the storm knocked out power to more than 16,000 homes in the area.
Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson said, “We are deeply saddened by the deaths of two of our visitors. Our thoughts are with their families and with those who were injured.”
The two fatalities in Chattanooga occurred when winds overturned a double-decker pontoon boat on Chickamauga Lake.