Monday, Jul 9, 2012
Two people were killed, at least six others were injured, and major tree damage was inflicted by a severe thunderstorm that hit the west end of the park last Thursday evening.
Ralph Frazier of Buford, Georgia, was riding his motorcycle near the Townsend Wye when he was struck on the head by a falling limb; Rachael Burkhart, a resident of Corryton, Tennessee, died when she was hit by a falling tree in the Abrams Creek area. Several other visitors sustained injuries as a result of the storm. A seven-year-old girl who was swimming in Abrams Creek was seriously injured by the same tree that killed Burkhart. She was unconscious and not breathing when she was pulled from the water, but was resuscitated on scene by other visitors who administered CPR and was then taken by helicopter to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. The girl’s father and mother also sustained injuries from the tree fall and were taken to the same hospital. Two other visitors suffered eye and back injuries and a third had cardiac issues.
The storm left a line of destruction stretching from Metcalf Bottoms across Cades Cove to Abrams Creek. Crews have been working since Thursday to clear the tangled mass of hundreds of downed trees covering several roads in the west end of the park. On Saturday, park staff also began a damage assessment of backcountry trails in the area hit by the storm. Initial indications are that several trails received significant damage, including the Chestnut Top Trail, of which a two-mile section has essentially been lost.
The Cades Cove Loop, Laurel Creek Road into Cades Cove, the Cades Cove Campground, and Little River Road from Elkmont to the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area reopened on Saturday evening. Other roads in the storm-damaged area remain closed, including the Little River Road between Metcalf Bottoms and the Townsend Wye, the Rich Mountain Road, Parson’s Branch Road and the Abrams Creek access road. The Abrams Creek Campground also remains closed. Assessment and clearing efforts will continue through the weekend.