By MELINDA WILLIAMS
and TRAVIS HANDY
High winds and heavy rain ripped roofs and walls off structures, downed trees, sent creeks and rivers out of banks and led to the rescue of a woman from her car Wednesday night.
Representatives of the National Weather Service are headed to Pulaski County this morning to assess wind damage in the Dublin and Fairlawn areas so as to determine whether tornado or straight line winds are to blame, according to NWS Meteorologist Dennis Sleighter.
Storms that spawned multiple tornadoes from Mississippi to Alabama raced through the county after 3 p.m. Wednesday, leveling trees and causing damage to several structures in the Dublin to Fairlawn area.
One home in the Chicwood Estates subdivision off Thornspring Road had an approximately 15-foot by 30-foot section of its roof ripped off, forcing the owners to scurry to grab belongings and try to protect what they could from the pouring rain. They weren’t available to comment, but a neighbor, Teresa King, recalled what the storm was like.
King, who lives at the corner of Chicwood Drive and Thornspring Road said she was at home when the “wind started blowing really hard and you could sort of feel the house rumbling. I told my boyfriend, Kenny (Smith), ‘I think the siding just ripped off the house.’ Then the power went out.”
She said she works on a rescue squad so she grabbed her rescue radio and turned it on.
“I heard that at 5851 (Chicwood Drive) a structure had collapsed. So I jumped in the car and came down here to make sure they were alright. When we pulled up we saw that the roof was gone, but the structure was still standing,” said King.
She said the couple that lives there were at home and the woman was concerned because she wasn’t able to find her husband, who ended up being in the other end of the house.
King said her boyfriend returned to her house, then called her to report that a 200-year-old oak tree in her lawn had been blown down. “We didn’t even look at our own yard” before rushing to check on the structure that was reported to have collapsed.
According to Assistant Pulaski County Administrator Robert Hiss, approximately a dozen other homes within the immediate vicinity of Chicwood Estates sustained “significant” roof damage. Tarps were placed on the roofs of three homes by local fire department personnel.
Hiss said a detached garage also was collapsed by the wind a horse ranch reported damaged barn structures with one horse fatality.
In Fairlawn, the high winds resulted in downed trees and power lines, as well as property damage.
The bulk of the damage in Fairlawn was at the Radford Foodette at the corner of Peppers Ferry Boulevard and Pulaski Avenue. The wind tossed around dumpsters, U-haul trailers and automobiles like a child’s toys.
Betty Branscome of Dublin was waiting for her son in her Ford Taurus, which was parked outside the Foodette when the event took place.
“I had backed my car in and was waiting for my son to come from work down the hill. All of a sudden it started raining really hard and the wind started blowing really hard,” said Branscome. “All of a sudden I saw something white and I turned my head and I knew something was coming, but it was storming so bad I couldn’t see really well, but something hit my car and turned it like it is now.”
Branscome’s car was pushed into another parked vehicle by what she believes was one of the U-haul trailers the Foodette offers for rent. Windows were broken out of both vehicles and Branscome’s car received heavy damage to the passenger side.
The impact of the vehicles hitting the side of the store caused the brick facade to fall away, leaving a large hole in the side of the building.
Other damages in Fairlawn included downed trees and other minor property damages. Much of the community was left without power throughout the night Wednesday and into the day on Thursday. Countywide, as many as 1,200 Appalachian Power Co. customers were without power at least for a while Wednesday evening.
But the problems didn’t stop with the winds, Hiss said a large amount of rain, combined with already saturated grounds, resulted in many roads in the Hiwassee and Snowville communities experiencing street flooding.
In Pulaski, an overflowing stream caused one family to be evacuated from their home on Pulaski Street due to rising waters into the living area of the home.
In Hiwassee, rescue personnel from as far away as Salem spent more than two hours working to rescue a woman from her car after it became overwhelmed on Eanes Ferry Road and washed against some trees.
“I was so afraid she was going to wash away,” Hiwassee Fire Chief Donald Boyd said of the swift water rescue that got underway around 8 p.m. and continued until 10:40 p.m. He said two guys tied ropes around them and tried to get to the woman as soon as they got on the scene, but the water washed them downstream and “we liked to never get them out” of the water.
“I told them it’s too dangerous, we’d have to wait for some more help,” Boyd said. “All we could do was sit and watch.”
He said the woman kept saying the car was stable, but he didn’t want to scare her by telling her he could see the back of the car bobbing in the water.
The woman had only lived in that area about two months, according to Boyd. “So she has no idea about that creek. I’ve lived here all my life and I know what that creek can do.” He said he has never seen the water that high.
Even swift water rescue units from Radford, the New River Valley and Salem were unable to rescue the woman because the water was too wide to get ropes across it down stream to catch rescuers and the woman if they got swept away.
At that point, Boyd said, someone came up with a unique idea.
An excavator was hauled to the site and was able to haul two rescue personnel to the car in the bucket. The woman was then pulled from a back window and placed in the bucket to be brought to safety.
Although she was treated in an ambulance for quite a while, Boyd said the woman chose not to be taken to the hospital.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the weather like we’ve had lately,” said Boyd, referring to the extremely cold and unseasonably warm temperatures and the snow, wind and rain.
Hiss said local fire departments, first responders, and VDOT have been and will continue to actively work to clear roads to make them passable.
The county is compiling a list of damage, so residents and businesses with damage are asked to call 994-2602 to report property damages.
Thursday morning many roads in throughout the county were closed due to high water and in the Allisonia area, rescuers were gathering to evacuate residents along the New River.
Hiss said the river isn’t expected to crest until this Thursday evening or early Friday morning.
Boyd said the water in that area was higher Wednesday evening than it was the last time there was flooding in that area.