LAFOLLETTE (WATE) – Strong storms barreled through East Tennessee on Sunday, leaving behind a trail of destruction in multiple communities.
Dispatchers in Campbell and Claiborne counties say a possible tornado caused a large amount of damage in the Doakes Creek area.
The Claiborne County Emergency Management Agency says 10 homes were destroyed in Speedwell, but no injuries were reported.
In Claiborne County, the home belonging to Sheriff David Ray and his family was destroyed in the storm. They were not injured because they were taking cover in their basement.
“Terrible. Absolutely terrible. I’ve seen a lot of this devastation, but I’ve never went through anything like it,” said Sheriff David Ray as he described the experience.
Ray says he is thankful to be alive.
“The electricity went out at my house, and I got a phone call from one of my officers telling me the radar was indicating it was coming right to my house, and to get in the basement. I took my wife and my mother in law who’s 83-years-old down the stairs, and she fell, and we had to manage to get her into the basement. I got them down on the floor. I covered them up with my body. I laid on both of them face down. It was over in about three minutes, and had it not been for the phone call we would have all been severely injured if not killed,” said Ray.
Also in Claiborne County, a grocery store was a total loss after the severe weather rolled through. The owner of D & P Grocery in Speedwell says she was able to stay alive and safe by hiding in her bathtub the second she knew there was danger.
“I just heard this loud popping, and I came to the front, and I saw debris was going everywhere, and I walked back through and got some pillows for my bedroom, and when I walked out of it the windows came out and it started raining in. I went in and got in the bathtub and put throw pillows over me until it got over with. Then when I came out it was raining in my dining room, and all that debris and all that was laying outside,” said Patsy Pierce.
Pierce says she doesn’t have enough insurance to cover all of the damage. For now she says she will rely on help from family and friends.
LaFollette Utilities says around 5,000 people were left without power near the Campbell/Claiborne county line. Crews were out assessing the damage. They are asking customers to remain patient and stay away from downed power lines.
In Knoxville, a construction walkway blew over, blocking lanes of Gay Street downtown, but no injuries were reported there either.
One couple that lives along Gay Street saw the rain coming down, then heard a cracking noise as the storm rolled through.
“Incredible. How did this happen? How did the storm come down Gay Street? Generally you think lots of trees… I mean just incredible,” said Elizabeth Goodale.
“I can’t believe it had that much force to do that much damage. You’ve got tall buildings on both sides of the street and I thought it would buffer.. But it’s pretty amazing,” said Troy Goodale.
The Knoxville Utilities Board says as many as 34,000 people were without power at one point Sunday night. KUB says because the damage to the area is extensive, the damage assessment will last until Monday. Crews are working as quickly as possible to restore power to all customers.
For the latest updates on KUB power outages click here.