Chattanooga officials urged the public to stay away from impacted areas so that first responders can continue recovery and damage assessment efforts after powerful storms struck the Chattanooga region overnight leaving a path of damage miles from tornadoes and strong winds.
At least two people are dead in Hamilton County, Tennessee, including one man who was killed by a tree, and at least six more people lost their lives in Murray County, Georgia.
During a Monday afternoon press conference, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke pleaded with the community to stay away from impacted areas.
"Don't come out here," he said. "Don't come to take pictures. Don't come to see what the damage looks like. Do not come to this area. You are impeding the work that people need to do to keep individuals safe. I know you might want to come help your friend, that's a great instinct. I know you might want to come make sure that your friend has what he or she needs, that's terrific. Don't come out here. Let us get our work done first."
"The darkest of times brings out the best in our people ... This is an extremely tough period."
He said the path of the wreckage was about a half-a-mile wide and four miles long.
"If you can think about what that is like to see four miles of relatively consistent damage — saw houses that were destroyed, places where roofs had shingles knocked off of them, places where outside pools were turned over — everything you could see, I saw from from the sky," Berke said. "It was devastating."
"The human toll of this is extremely difficult."
The path of Sunday night's storm, according to the city of Chattanooga's data website:
Chattanooga fire Chief Philip Hyman said he believes it'll be about 72 hours before they know the extent of the damage.
With the debris field's size and the amount of work that needs to be done by public works and getting power lines back up, "we're looking at the number of weeks before we get back to normal," Hyman said.
Chattanooga police Chief David Roddy echoed Berke's pleas.
"From what we've seen today, there are a number of individuals that appear to come into the area for no other reason than for voyeurism," he said. "For every person that comes into that area, even with the best of intentions, you are hampering our ability to continue doing what we're doing."
It's not just foot traffic that is of concern, Roddy said.
"There are a number of intersections around that area where the traffic lights don't work. The more cars that come into those intersections, the greater chance we have of another tragedy," he warned. "The more cars that are parked on the roadways that are fairly clear as it is, to get out and help, the harder it is for the Public Works trucks, the fire trucks and police cars to get through to continue doing what we're doing and there's still a lot of work to be done."
In an effort to mitigate the traffic to impacted areas, Roddy said that, starting at 8 p.m. Monday night until 8 a.m. the next morning, the department would be implementing an "access enforcement program," increasing patrol in hard-hit areas to ensure no unnecessary people or bad actors are around.
The department will notify the public if it extends the enhanced enforcement for another night.
"Give us a day or so," he said. "Let us get in and do what we're doing now let's get to the next stage of this and then we can figure out how volunteers, how Chattanooga can be what Chattanooga always is."
In looking at the path of damage, he said, "it's pretty obvious what businesses were damaged." So if people are coming into the community "for other reasons," they can be expected to be stopped by an officer, he warned.
There is no strict rule that people have to have a driver's license to check-in anywhere, but "our officers are going to get out and ask you why you're there," Roddy said.
"We understand people are curious when something happens in their community, he said. Right now it's unhealthy. Right now it's affecting our ability to do our jobs, but then also as darkness comes, individuals sometimes come to areas like this for other purposes."
"If you do live there, they're gonna ask you how they can help you ... but if you don't live there and you're in there trying to do harm to other members of our community that have suffered enough, and then probably is going to go a different direction."