published Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Storm cleanup in the Chattanooga area could take whole weekend

Chattanooga Public Works and Asplundh employees work to remove a tree blocking Dayton Boulevard after a "gust front" moved through the Tennessee Valley early Thursday evening.
Chattanooga Public Works and Asplundh employees work to remove a tree blocking Dayton Boulevard after a "gust front" moved through the Tennessee Valley early Thursday evening.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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Efforts to repair and restore areas battered Thursday by winds that tore off roofs, tumbled trees across roads and yanked down power lines will continue throughout the weekend.

The violent winds engulfed Hamilton County, the rest of Southeast Tennessee and parts of North Georgia. Widespread damage stretched as far as Knoxville.

“It affected just about every neighborhood in the county to some extent,” said Bill Tittle, chief of Hamilton County Emergency Services. “It absolutely overwhelmed the 911 center. With cellphones today, they’d get about 10 calls on the same tree that was down.”

About eight in-house crews with Chattanooga Public Works were dispersed throughout the city to help clean up downed limbs and blown debris, according to Chattanooga City Forester Gene Hyde. That’s a higher number than usual and adds up to about half the number of crews that were used to clear and repair damage from the April 27, 2011, tornadoes, he said.

“This is going to be a multiple-day process,” Hyde said. “This was too big of a storm to do everything in just one day.”

Areas north of the Tennessee River such as North Chattanooga, Hixson and some of Mountain Creek were the “worst-hit areas,” he said.

“We’ve had requests for assistance for well over 100 downed trees and tree limbs,” Hyde said.

In several instances, trees took power lines down with them as they toppled. EPB had its first power outage alert about 7:10 p.m., in the Graysville and Sale Creek areas, EPB spokeswoman Deborah Dwyer said. The next call came in about 7:30 p.m. from Middle Valley, she said.

EPB on Thursday counted 847 “incidents,” anything from a small fuse blown to an entire utility pole snapped off, that left EPB customers without power, Dwyer said.

“Fixing one incident could put 1,000 people back on, or it could put just two people back on,” she said.

The number of EPB customers without power dropped by half in just under 12 hours, leaving about 7,237 customers still without power just after 10:30 p.m. Friday.

But full power restoration to all EPB customers in the area could take a few days, Dwyer said.

“Barring any other weather-related incidents, we are anticipating everyone’s power will be restored by Sunday or Monday,” she said.

In Southest Tennessee, about 7,000 Volunteer Energy Cooperative customers were still without power Friday.

In North Georgia, 7,500 North Georgia EMC members were still without power Friday. Most outages were in Whitfield, Murray, Walker and Catoosa counties, with scattered outages in Chattooga, Gordon and Floyd counties.

Georgia Power updated customers about power outages using its Twitter account. Just after 10:40 p.m. Thursday, Georgia Power reported 4,060 power outages in Dalton. In a little less than 24 hours, the numbers dwindled to just more that 1,000 in Rome, Dalton and Cedartown combined.

In Cleveland, Tenn., crews were still “spread pretty thin” on Friday to clean up storm damage, Public Works Director Tommy Myers said.

“We’ve been at it all day [Friday],” he said. “The whole town got hit. There are still trees down everywhere.”

In Signal Mountain, speedy efforts allowed for most of the town’s power to be fully restored by 10 a.m. Friday, according to Public Works Supervisor David Lewis. Only about 700 EPB customers were without power in Signal Mountain on Friday morning, down from 2,500.

An even speedier recovery took place in Chickamauga, Ga., where power to Chickamauga Utilities customers was restored and roads cleared by midnight, according to City Manager John Culpepper.

“We’re holding up pretty good,” he said. “The power was only out for about an hour-and-a-half. People are just picking up sticks and limbs and getting them out of the way.”

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