Storm-Damaged Smokies Campground Reopens
More than a week after a deadly storm swept across the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, park rangers have reopened Abrams Creek Campground.
The campground reopened to the public on July 14, WBIR-TV, Knoxville, Tenn., reported.
The July 5 storm downed thousands of trees in the park and killed two people. Ralph Frazier, 50, of Buford, Ga., died when a tree fell on him as he drove his motorcycle just east of the Townsend Wye.
Rachael Burkhart, 41, of Corryton, Tenn., died after a tree fell on her while she was getting out of a swimming hole at Abrams Creek. Three other members of a family were injured by the same falling tree at the swimming hole.
Nearby resident Katie Folen remembers the events unfolding in front of her that evening. Her driveway became a makeshift parking lot for emergency personnel.
“We had four ambulances, a couple of fire trucks, park rangers, the state workers…” she listed. “So there was really nowhere to park, no access to the lower camping area.”
She compared the sight of fallen trees to dominoes.
“Probably the most frightening part was trying to tend to arriving families who were very concerned because they had heard it on the news, and their families were camping.”
Her neighbor, Les Hearon, is no stranger to storms rolling through the mountainside. After living in the area for nearly 80 years, he keeps a scanner nearby.
“When it comes over a mountain like that, a storm all at once, there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said.
Hearon attempted to drive his vehicle toward the scene, but was also blocked out.
“You got a road just barely wide enough for one vehicle, and if it gets blocked. There’s no way out.”
More than one week after the storms, Hearon complements park officials on a speedy clean-up. Saturday afternoon, visitors had already returned to the campground and were splashing in the creek water.
Folen’s power has been restored, and she is now thinking ahead to the next possible emergency in her neighborhood.
“How can we all help to respond better, and do a better job from what we’ve learned in this situation?”