Residents fix damages in tornado's 2.2 mile path

Residents fix damages in tornado's 2.2 mile path

March 2nd, 2011 by Carey O'Neil in News

National Weather Service officials determined that a tornado ripped through about 2.2 miles of Red Bank during Monday's storm.

The storm, which also packed wind gusts of 60 to 70 mph, felled hundreds of trees and left about 7,500 homes and businesses still without power Tuesday evening.

Initial investigations show the tornado's winds began wreaking havoc at Red Bank High School, but officials say the twister may have started farther west on Signal Mountain.

After touching down, the tornado continued along a straight path stretching from 75 to as much as 150 yards wide, hurling trees every which way, often into yards, through roofs and onto vehicles.

In all, the twister "destroyed" six residences, damaging about 80 homes in total, according to Red Bank City Manager Chris Dorsey.

"We're sure that number's going to get higher," he said.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press Tim Troutman, NOAA's warning coordination meteorologist out of Morristown, Tenn., observes damage in a neighborhood off Dayton Boulevard. He said Monday's severe storm contained an EF-1 tornado which touched down at Red Bank High School, traveled a few miles northeast, and dissipated near the Hixson line. He said it could have started on Signal Mountain.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press Tim...

Kyle Rousseau was almost crushed by a falling tree as he stepped on his back porch to save his dogs.

"I told my girlfriend, 'Get in the bathroom,'" said Rousseau, who lives on Mountain View Avenue in Red Bank. "We have a bathroom at the center of the house, and then I heard some cracking. I had time to just turn and jump, and then bam! The whole house shook and, of course, I was just laying there. My girlfriend thought I was dead. She thought I was skewered."

The tree collapsed the roof above Rousseau's bed and a branch smashed through the roof of the upstairs bathroom. He, his girlfriend and his dogs are fine, but their belongings weren't as lucky.

Among several other items, Rousseau lost a $2,200 guitar signed by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett. And his girlfriend, a make-up artist, lost more than $5,000 worth of beauty supplies, he said.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press EPB operator O'Fair Brooks, left, and EPB lineman Charles Sales replace a utility pole Tuesday near the intersection of Mountain View Avenue and Crest Drive after a severe storm uprooted trees and damaged area homes Monday afternoon.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press EPB...

That kind of damage isn't surprising. Total damage after Monday afternoon's short storm has been estimated in the millions.

"The houses that I've already seen and the difficulties I've already seen, we're definitely that high," said John Thomason, certified arborist for ABC Tree Services. "When you destroy a house, you're not talking about $10,000 worth of damage, you're talking about $200,000 or better."

But Rousseau and many others don't need to plan on footing the repair bill. Pam Wood, an agent at Carriage Hill Insurance in Chattanooga, said the majority of homeowners are insured and insurance is a requirement for anyone with a mortgage.

"I don't know what scenario a tree falling on a house isn't covered," she said. "I can't even imagine a scenario."

Roughly 7,500 properties across Hamilton County have a slightly more immediate concern as about 450 EPB employees, local contractors and crews from out of town are working to restore their power.

Though crews worked through the night, some areas might not get electricity until Thursday due to the extensive damage, according to EPB spokeswoman Lacie Newton. The storm knocked down or broke about 45 power poles, which take up to 12 hours each to replace, she said.

Enhanced Fujita Tornado Scale

Tornados are categorized by the strength of their winds which is determined by damage and patterns of damage.

EF0 - 65-85 mph

EF1 - 86-110 mph

EF2 - 111-135 mph

EF3 - 136-165 mph

EF4 - 166-200 mph

EF5 - More than 200 mph

"It's just time consuming," Brooks O'Fair, an EPB employee of 10 years, said while packing dirt around a freshly planted pole.

Besides replacing the poles, EPB employees must repair downed, dangerous power lines.

"You've just gotta be careful," he said. "You've got your life at risk, but you've got everyone else around you's life."

EPB workers aren't the only ones kept busy by the storm. Crews from Chattanooga, Red Bank and Soddy-Daisy worked through the night Monday and plan to keep working for several days to clear more than 150 downed trees blocking roadways around the area.

Once dangerous downed power lines are repaired by EPB, workers must cut up trees weighing, move the wood to the road side, then return later to clear debris.

"We're used to it. We're tired, but we've been down this road before, so it's not a biggie," Chattanooga City Forester Gene Hyde said.

As the storm's victims start the recovery process, several say they are thankful that little more than property was damaged in a storm that claimed three lives across the state.

"It could have been a whole lot worse," said Diane Smith, who lives in the tornado's path on Red Bank's McCahill Road. "We're in good shape, we really are."

A tree crashed through Smith's roof, taking out her dining room and part of her living room while she, her husband and her dog took shelter in their basement.

"I'm just grateful there wasn't any personal injury. We can always replace a house, but we can't replace a human body," she said. "Now it's just getting the house put back to order after a little bit of chaos."

Staff writer Chris Carroll contributed to this report.

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