Haslam: Storm damage far more widespread than a tornado strike

CROSSVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam got a firsthand aerial look Tuesday at the storm damage in Cumberland and Fentress counties.

Early Saturday, ice and wind took down hundreds of trees on the Cumberland Plateau, leaving thousands without power and many roads impassable.

The view from the air shows just how widespread damage is, Haslam said Tuesday afternoon.

"Somebody asked me to compare this to tornadoes that we've had around the state since I've been in office," he said. "Here, the damage is just so much more widespread. A tornado comes through and hits a little swatch and moves on, but this has affected this whole plateau region in a serious way."

Haslam, who viewed the area by helicopter, also said officials have begun the process to have the Plateau area declared a federal disaster area. That would allow aid to flow to those who have suffered a loss in the storm.

"We have to fill out the forms and do the paperwork," he said.

More: Fallen trees leave most of Cumberland & Fentress without power

Previous: Thousands still without power in the Cumberland Plateau

Crews have been working round the clock since the weekend to clear trees and get the heat back on, but the conditions mean progress is slow.

Haslam also visited the Lake Tansi Community Center to meet with some residents impacted by the storm. He also led a briefing on the emergency response across the state.

The governor put a special emphasis on the lives lost in this prolonged winter weather event. As of Tuesday afternoon, 30 people had died across the state in weather-related incidents, from hypothermia to car accidents to fires.

"Let me be clear," he said. "We're urging folks if you have someone you're concerned about, if they're elderly or think they might be without power, please do check on them. I want to be really clear there. We were talking to the mayor just a second ago, and one of our issues is we have some folks in homes without power, and they don't want to be there. We obviously have limited power to force them to leave, but we want to be urging everybody to be checking on your friends and neighbors because this isn't over, and as we've said, we're expected a new storm to come through here in the next 24 hours."

Volunteer Energy Cooperative reported Tuesday afternoon a total of about 14,000 customers were without power in Cumberland County, along with 2,500 in Fentress County and 1,300 in Putnam County.

It's hard to say when power will be restored to all, according to the cooperative.

"At this time we cannot provide accurate information in this regard other than to say that we have several more days of work ahead of us," the cooperative states on its Facebook page.

Plateau Electric Cooperative also has been impacted by outages.

On Tuesday afternoon, Plateau said outages were down to 50 customers in the entire service area, mostly in Morgan County.

As he toured the Plateau, Haslam encouraged everyone to put safety first, to take care of themselves and others.

"It's a great time to be looking out for your neighbor," he said.

Haslam also sent a big thank you to the huge effort by emergency responders across Tennessee, who have been working endless hours to help people, clear roads, and restore power.

"A lot of people have been working really hard these last few days," he said.

Patty and Jeff Sloan live in Cumberland County and came to meet Haslam on his tour.

The Sloans said their property was covered in ice that was about an inch thick on Saturday morning. The weight started to snap tree limbs.

"Ice was breaking off the trees and crashing on our roof, and we had trees breaking, falling right beside our house," Patty Sloan said. "It was petrifying."

Jeff Sloan echoed Haslam's sentiment that Cumberland County looked similar to a disaster area.

"It's devastation," he said. "It's like people go around the day after a tornado to look, except this you could go all around. You know, a tornado takes a path. This just covered the whole county and surrounding counties."


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