Staff photo by Doug Strickland / The remains of a Subway restaurant on Signal Mountain Road are seen after an overnight mudslide destroyed the business on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Subway manager Robbie Anderson said that the restaurant had closed at about 2:00 on Friday for safety after two trees fell from the hillside.

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Subway mudslide

A mudslide has caused the Subway restaurant on Signal Mountain Road to collapse Saturday morning.

While the restaurant normally opens for breakfast at 8 a.m., no one was in the building when it collapsed at around 9:30 a.m. 

The business' owner, Owen Megahee, had closed its doors on Friday at around noon after a tree fell on an employee's car.

"I saw part of the hill trying to come down, so I was like, 'Let's get everybody out of here,'" he said.

Officials with the Chattanooga Fire Department said his decision potentially saved lives.

"If they had it open, and employees and customers had been in there, we'd be talking about something much more serious," fire department spokesman Bruce Garner said. "People could have been hurt or killed for sure."

Megahee said knowing his decision potentially saved lives is overwhelming.

"It's crazy to think about," he said.

Madison Davis, whose father owns the business next door, Shuford's Smokehouse, said she was working when she heard the land give way.

"That was the wildest thing I've ever seen in my life," she said. "It was scary. It happened so fast ... just, all of a sudden. The whole thing just fell. The CO2 tank blew, the wire was alive, and it was insane."

The fire department issued a notice prohibiting occupancy of the smokehouse until the land is deemed stable. 

"We hate to give a business bad news like that. We don't like to have any negative impact on a business, but this is about life safety. That's why we're advising to close it down today."

Davis said the business is closed to the public, but they have a number of catering jobs scheduled for Saturday that they're trying to figure out how to meet.

In the meantime, Chattanooga building inspector and officials with Hamilton County's engineering department were inspecting the hillside to determine whether other businesses and homes needed to be evacuated. 

And Signal Mountain Road will remain limited to just two lanes in that area until officials deem the area stable again.

"The ground is just so saturated at this point, it's so unstable and it just flows downhill," Allan Diegan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tennessee, said of the mudslide.

In addition to the mudslide, Diegan said the weather service has received reports of roads flooded or closed across East Tennessee because of rain over the past week.

He said the warm front that brought the rain has pushed north of Chattanooga, so the area should see a break from rain this afternoon. But a cold front expected to move in around 9 p.m. today will bring between .2 and .4 inches of rain.

The good news is Sunday and Monday should be dry, and rain is not expected until Wednesday.

Diegan advised residents to avoid roads that have standing water.

"If you see water on a road, not matter how deep you think it is, don't cross it," he said.

It's difficult to tell how deep the water actually is, Diegan said, especially in the dark.