Note: This story was last updated at 2:40 p.m.
Roughly 4,000 customers lost power in the Tuesday evening storm, and about 70 damaged homes will require repairs by an electrician before power can be restored, an Oak Ridge official said Wednesday morning.
Oak Ridge Electric Director Jack Suggs said he doesn’t recall ever having 70 homes damaged in one storm, although the Electric Department has experienced worse storms when many utility poles were broken. But the brief, fierce Tuesday storm, which brought severe winds and driving rain, was significant in terms of its damage to homes and its far-reaching nature, from Blair Road on the west end of town to east Oak Ridge and beyond—into Clinton and Anderson County, Suggs said.
“It was pretty widespread,” Suggs said.
The storm, which ripped through Oak Ridge at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, left a trail of debris: scattered branches and limbs, broken trees, fallen power lines, and damaged buildings and homes. It also triggered a flood of calls to the city’s 911 call dispatch center.
About 500 customers remained without power around noon Wednesday, including the 70 damaged homes.
Suggs said Electric Department crews had reduced the number of customers without power to about 2,000 by midnight and 1,000 by 3 a.m. Wednesday. But all that information is preliminary, Suggs said.
The Oak Ridge Electric Department is now working 24 hours a day to restore power, and city crews have been augmented by contractors. There have been line crews, tree crews, some employees manning a phone bank and others planning the work, and scouts to find and identify problems.
“Everyone in the department has worked to restore power,” Suggs said early Wednesday morning. “Many, including the department’s secretaries, came in and worked until long after 1. Engineering personnel worked late into the night also. Those who were not asked to come in immediately were held off so that we could continue a 24-hour restoration operation without endangering our people.”
Suggs said it took 50 years to build the city’s electrical system, and a significant part of it was destroyed on Tuesday.
Suggs said crews are working first on the largest outage areas, trying to restore power to as many people as possible. He hopes to restore power to those who are capable of receiving it by 8 or 9 p.m. Wednesday.
In the meantime, Suggs advised residents who don’t have power to keep their refrigerators and freezers closed to avoid ruining the groceries inside.
“Do not check on the food,” Suggs said.
He said the Electric Department continues to get calls of fallen power lines as well.
“Stay away from downed power lines,” Suggs said.
He said the 500 customers still without power are probably in seven to eight small areas, including, for example, Highland View, the top end of Newport, and Hunter Circle.
“They’re really scattered in pockets,” Suggs said.
Anderson County and Clinton
WYSH Radio in Clinton reported that the storm destroyed the Passtime Garage downtown, slightly injuring two people working on a van inside the building. Both of those men were treated for their injuries at area hospitals.
Owner Dustin Byrd said insurance will cover the damage, but he was most thankful no one was seriously injured, WYSH reported.
In fact, across the region, no serious injuries were reported.
On Lake City Highway, a tractor trailer was flipped onto its side by high winds, slightly injuring the driver.
A tree—one of many that came down across the county—reportedly fell on a mobile home in Claxton, trapping a woman inside. She was uninjured.
Damage ranged from shingles being torn off roofs, and siding stripped from buildings, to limbs and tress on cars and structures. Downed trees caused widespread power outages throughout the Clinton Utilities Board service area. At the peak of the outages, more than 6,000 customers were without power, and CUB crews have been out in force since the storms passed through, working to restore power, WYSH said.
“If you see those crews out working, please slow down and give them plenty of room as they continue their repairs,” the radio station said.
The National Weather Service is expected to be in the area today (Wednesday) surveying damage to determine if it was caused by a tornado or simply straight-line winds.
In Roane County, WYSH and BBB-TV, Ch. 12, reported that the most serious storm damage was said to be in the city of Kingston, although there were widespread reports of power outages and downed trees across the county.
The Kingston damage centered around the area of 3rd and 4th Streets, where power lines and poles were brought down, and several buildings were damaged on Kentucky Street as well.
The sign at the Taco Bell in Kingston was blown apart, with debris flying some 100 yards away, and there was also damage to the roof at the Raceway gas station. No serious injuries were reported, and the NWS is expected to be in Roane County today to assess the damage, WYSH said.
More information will be added as it becomes available.