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Suspected downburst downs trees, damages homes in Hawkins community

Jeff Bobo • May 23, 2013 at 3:14 PM

KINGSPORT — A suspected downburst that hit Ross Campground Road in far eastern Hawkins County on Wednesday evening downed trees, pulled power lines out of residences and damaged at least three homes.

A forecaster with the National Weather Service in Morristown told the Times-News someone from his office will visit Ross Campground today to confirm if it was in fact a downburst.

But based on damage reports, the forecaster said the winds that hit Ross Campground Road about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday could have been a 70-80 mph downburst.

Kayla Carter, who lives on Ross Campground Road, said it sounded like a freight train passing through her neighborhood. She said the wind was accompanied by quarter size hail.

“The wind came through and just knocked everything down,” Williams said. “It was horrible.”

Ross Campground is located in unincorporated Hawkins County north of Allandale.

The majority of Ross Campground Road was blocked by a large oak tree that fell over the road and onto some power lines. An hour after the storm, the Hawkins County Highway Department was cutting smaller trees out of the road. But they had been advised to leave the large oak tree to Appalachian Power crews en route because the tree was likely holding an electric charge.

That meant people on the back side of the dead end road were cut off, and rescuers were walking the area, going door to door to make sure everyone was OK.

About an hour after the storm Hawkins County EMA director Gary Murrell returned from walking to the dead end and back and reported that there were no injuries. Church Hill EMS was attending some elderly residents who were affected by the power outage, however.

“We’ve got about a mile and a half to two mile stretch of Ross Campground Road that has 20-30 trees down, three power poles are broke completely in two, and power lines are down,” Murrell said. “We’ve got about 20-25 residences back here, and we’ve had to go door to door to make sure they’re OK. We had EMS respond to one who had no oxygen for the machine, and we’ve got some who are on heart monitors that we’re working with right now.”

Ross Campground Road resident Jesse Ray said the storm was “about like a tornado.”

“Strong winds, and I reckon it blew this huge tree over and they went like dominoes after that,” Ray said. “A tree landed on my brother’s car, and there’s a bunch of stuff uprooted in our yard. Our power lines were jerked out of our house, so we probably won’t have power for quite a while.”

As the sun was going down, another storm was descending on the area. By 9 p.m., rescuers and Appalachian Power were attempting to get the tree out of the road before a serious storm hitting Rogersville at that time arrived at Ross Campground.

One elderly man with health problems was evacuated from the area to stay with family. With more storms coming in, rescuers were looking at the possibility more people would be evacuated, especially if the road wasn’t cleared.

Murrell said there was structure damage reported at several residences, and more rain would likely mean water damage.

“We’ve got one residence near the end — their entire roof was lifted off of their house and set back down off of the posts on their porch,” Murrell said. “We’re probably looking at getting them out tonight anyway.”

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