The Heat Is Online

Tennesee Floods Kill 4, Leave Hundreds Homeless

Storms prompt evacuation, death toll rises,
March 19, 2002

A third day of heavy rain is underway from Texas to West Virginia -- a swath of the United States saturated by several inches of rainfall that has proven deadly in two states.

Eastern Kentucky officials are calling the rain-fueled flooding the worst in 25 years. Flooding and mudslides have damaged or destroyed some 250 homes, and now the National Guard is helping residents get out of the area.

Flooding in the town of Cumberland sent a trailer plunging over a 50-foot embankment with Jacqueline Bellofatto and her family inside.

A tearful Bellofatto recounted how she survived the fall and then searched frantically for her 7-year-old daughter in the mud and rain.

"I just started yelling for her and she wasn't there," said Bellofatto, who began digging in the mud beneath the trailer. "I just dug her out with my hands. She was buried alive."

Once the girl was found safe, Bellofatto, her husband, their daughter and 4-year-old son struck out for a neighbor's home to seek help.

"We were finding out with each step that we took we would sink down to our chest in the mud," Bellofatto said.

Authorities ordered the evacuation of a string of communities in the Cumberland River basin, where rooftops could be seen protruding from the murky water. National Guard troops were sent in with three boats, three trucks and a Humvee to assist with evacuations.

"The water came up so fast that we didn't have time to save anything," said Kimberly Evans, who was forced from her home at Dayhoit. "All we can do now is wait until we can get back in and see what we can salvage."

Most school systems in the region were closed.

Nearly three dozen roads were still under water in Tennessee's Sevier County and dozens more in Blount, Knox and surrounding counties.

"Everyone needs to stay at home and not get out in this," said Pat Evans of the Bledsoe County Sheriff's Department. "The water isn't receding any and there's more rain coming; risking your life isn't worth it."

Storm toll rises

Kentucky is only one of several states struck by flash flooding during this week's heavy rains. While the water has caused considerable damage, all residents have so far escaped the storm with their lives. People in other states have not been so fortunate, as the death toll from the heavy rains rises.

The latest storm victims were young children in Texas and Tennessee.

A 4-year-old boy drowned Monday in Longview, Texas' rain-swollen Marshall Creek. The boy was swept underwater along with his 10-year-old sister and 13-year-old friend while they were swimming. The older children were treated for hypothermia.

Officials said the creek level was probably higher than usual because of the recent rains, and the bank was very slippery and muddy.

Also Monday, 3-year-old Cody Haun died after falling into a swollen creek behind his home in Erwin.

Tennessee officials say two people drowned crossing swollen creeks and a family of three died in a weekend traffic accident on a rain-slickened highway. In Nashville, an 18-year-old man was killed when his vehicle hydroplaned and hit a tree.

Drenching clouds

All of the rain is coming from an upper-level low crossing the eastern United States. It dumped nearly 3 inches of rain over parts of Texas on Monday after triggering several inches of rain in Tennessee the days before.

More rain is on the way today, say forecasters at The Weather Channel. Another 4 inches of rain or more is likely to fall over already-saturated states. Forecasters say the heaviest rainfall is expected in Texas. The drying process can begin tomorrow, when forecasters expect the rains to move away from the Southern Plains and Ohio Valley and into the Deep South.

Copyright 2001

Fatal floods in Tennessee, Kentucky, March 18, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) -- Heavy rain flooded parts of Tennessee and Kentucky, making roads deadly, forcing scores of people to evacuate low-lying areas and closing schools.

Tennessee authorities blamed at least four deaths on the storm, which dumped nearly 4 inches on the state Sunday. More rain fell across the region Monday.

"It's probably only going to get worse for some areas," said Sam Herron, a National Weather Service forecaster.

High water blocked more than a dozen roads in eastern Tennessee's Sevier County, heavily damaged at least one bridge and forced more than 100 people to evacuate.

In Smoky Mountains National Park near Sevier County, the historic valley settlement of Cades Cove was closed Monday, said Nancy Gray, a National Park Service spokeswoman. "You can't get into Cades Cove because of high water," she said.

Flash flooding destroyed or severely damaged at least 60 homes in rugged southeastern Kentucky's Harlan and Knox counties, and seven other counties reported flooding, mud slides and power outages. Boats had to be used to evacuate some people. About 1,000 customers lost power late Sunday.

"We're getting as many people and resources into it as we can to try to get it under control," Ray Bowman, spokesman for the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, said Monday.

Kentucky got 4 to 5 inches of rain in a 24-hour period ending Monday morning with a few isolated spots recording 6 inches, according to weather service meteorologist John Pelson in Jackson.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency kept watch on two rivers near Nashville. The Duck River was expected to crest 5 feet above flood stage at Columbia. The Harpeth River was expected to crest 3 to 4 feet above flood stage at Franklin and up to 7 feet above flood stage at Kingston Springs.

"The predicted crests wouldn't cause severe flooding, but they are based on an inch more of rain. If more falls, that situation could change," TEMA spokesman Kurt Pickering said Monday.

In western Tennessee, 3.59 inches of rain fell at Memphis International Airport by Sunday evening; the previous record for the date was 1.92 inches in 1987.

The deaths in Tennessee included a 17-year-old boy who drowned Sunday while trying to push a pickup truck out of high water in Lewisburg. Three people died when their pickup hydroplaned off a road and struck trees in Robertson County, said Beth Tucker Womack, state Safety Department spokeswoman.

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press