Hurricane Irma's winds and rain stormed through the region Monday night, causing a scare for some, but the damage was unexpectedly minimal in most of the area.
"All of us really expected this to be a lot worse," said Ricky Colston, Chattanooga Citywide Services director. "So we were really surprised, and happy about that, too, that we didn't have as many trees down as we thought or the flooding conditions [we expected]."
Power outages across the region were minimal. EPB had its crews on alert and called in help from Cleveland, Tenn., Knoxville, Nashville and La Follette utilities.
At the height of the storm, 4 percent of EPB customers were without power. As of Tuesday afternoon, 1 percent of the 170,000 EPB-serviced homes and businesses in the area were still in the dark, and that was the case throughout the rest of the day. Those locations were predicted to be without power for much of the night because of the extensive work required to clear the sites that were scattered across the area, EPB spokesman John Pless said. The other municipalities helping were already in the area or heading that way Tuesday afternoon to help clear downed lines and restore power.
The brunt of the storm's damage was concentrated on Signal Mountain, where wind bursts knocked trees into homes, made roads impassable and downed power lines. Several homes were severely damaged, while others narrowly averted disaster.
At least 31 trees fell in the town, five of which landed either completely or partially on homes, Signal Mountain Police Chief Mike Williams said.
"Luckily, out of all that, no one was injured," he said. "It was more than what we expected, but you never know what to expect up here with the wind."
W Road leading up and down the mountain was closed after debris blocked the roadway. A tree at Green Gorge Park fell across Green Gorge Road and fell into the yard of Colleen and Steve Levin.
"It was a long night. I have three kids, and they were freaking out all night," Colleen Levin said.
That was also the case for Ariel Knauff, who recently moved Signal Mountain from Chicago.
Knauff was home alone with her two children, ages 1 and 5, during the storm. They knew the storm was supposed to be strong but weren't exactly sure what to expect.
"We are used to blizzards, that's what we get in Chicago. Give us 40 inches of snow, and we know how to handle that," she said. "This was a lot different. I didn't really know if we should go to the basement or if we were fine upstairs. I wasn't exactly sure what we needed."
She heard a loud bang sometime around midnight and knew something had fallen. Her youngest child slept through it all, but the 5-year-old was antsy from all the commotion. Knauff inspected the damage and found a tree in their yard had fallen to the left. Had it fallen to the right, it would have crushed where the mother and her children were sleeping.
When morning came, the family was touched by the caring nature of the community.
"It seems like the town of Signal Mountain is out and about getting things cleared out of the road," she said. "I've been so grateful and impressed how the community and neighbors have come together."
Rural counties in Southeast Tennessee sustained little or no storm damage overnight.
Rhea County Fire Chief Jacky Reavley said there was one report of a tree falling on a house on Back Valley Road, but otherwise county residents emerged unscathed.
In Alabama's northeast corner counties of DeKalb and Jackson, officials reported some trees down and some weather-related crashes.
"We had a few trees down around 6 or 7 p.m (CDT) last night," Jackson County Chief Deputy Rocky Harnen said, noting a few accidents were reported where vehicles slid off rain-slickened roads.
DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency officer Matt Martin said several trees were toppled throughout the county.
"We had crews respond to about 20 trees down," Martin said.
"It was kind of widespread, not localized, and we had several power outages from downed trees," he said. "We were fortunate."
Southeast Tennessee received the worst of the wind and rain in the area, said Meteorologist Derek Eisentrout with the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn.
The weather station at the Chattanooga Airport was drenched by 1.83 inches of rain, a daily rainfall record. The previous record was set in 1944 with 1.35 inches.
The skies will be clear throughout the week, Eisentrout said, with rain and wind tapering. Warmer weather in the mid-to-high-80s and clear skies are forecast for the weekend.
Staff writer Ben Benton contributed to this story.
North Georgia impact
About 5,400 members of North Georgia EMC lost power as a result of the storm, including 1,900 in Catoosa County and 1,200 in Walker County. The company’s workers had restored power by 2 p.m. Tuesday, spokeswoman Kim Gamel said.
A little fewer than 10,000 Georgia Power customers in the northwestern section of the state were without power as of 11 a.m. Tuesday, a company spokesman said. Statewide, about 770,000 members were out of power at that point.
In LaFayette, a woman driving south on State Route 151 around 6 p.m. Monday lost control of her car. According to the Georgia State Patrol, she was driving through a curve and almost swerved too far to the right. She over corrected and spun off the road to her left, crashing into a tree.
Throughout the region, county officials said the storm’s punch was not as powerful as they feared. In Walker County, Sheriff Steve Wilson said they received reports of about 15 fallen trees as of Tuesday morning. Most of these were on Lookout Mountain.
Dade County saw a similar impact. Most of the tipped trunks and broken limbs fell on the mountain, said Alex Case, the county’s emergency services director. He added that most power outages, too, were on the mountain.
“But overall,” he said, “it wasn’t too bad. The good Lord had us in his hands.”
Catoosa County Manager Jim Walker said about nine trees fell, as well as two power lines and two traffic lights.
— Staff Report