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4 dead as Tennessee storm tosses boats, topples trailers, downs trees

Several buildings and a marina were badly damaged by storms in eastern Tennessee. Msnbc.com's Dara Brown reports.

A storm that tore through Tennessee killed at least four people while tossing boats, tipping over trailers at a campground and toppling hundreds of trees with winds up to 70 mph.

A child and her grandmother died when a double-decker pontoon boat on a Chattanooga lake capsized after being hit by a strong gust, Dan Hicks, a spokesman with the state's Wildlife Resources Agency, told msnbc.com. The grandmother had been hospitalized but later died of her injuries.

The storm "came up really quick ... they were trying to get back to the bank," said Hicks, who noted the high profile of the boat probably contributed to the accident.

"It was the fastest storm I've ever seen," witness Stan Crawley told The Chattanoogan. "It was fine, then two minutes later the storm was here. The waves were three and four feet high. We saw the pontoon boat flip on its top."

The other two deaths, and eight injuries, were at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Teams on Friday were searching for more victims from the Thursday evening storm, but felt confident the toll would not rise. While rangers "have not walked all trails," spokesman Carey Jones told msnbc.com, all visitors "appear to be accounted for" based on a search of main roads and public areas.

Jeff Farrell / The Mountain Press via AP

The roof of the Carl Ownby & Co. hardware store, background center, sits on the Juvenile Detention Center, foreground right, in Sevierville, Tenn., on Thursday after winds ripped it off and hurled it across a five-lane street. No injuries were reported.

A man riding a motorcycle died when hit by a tree limb and a woman was crushed to death by a falling tree that injured three others, the park said in a statement. A girl, 7, and her father were airlifted to a hospital. Their conditions were not known. The girl's mother suffered minor injuries.

Much of the damage was at the popular Cades Cove.

Staff from other parks were being brought in to help with the search and cleanup, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. "We're calling all hands on deck," said Deputy Park Superintendent Kevin Fitzgerald. "The most important thing right now is to get crews safely in there to assess what's going on."

Many roads inside the park were blocked by trees, and access into the park was blocked on the highway leading out of Townsend.

On nearby Douglas Lake, many boats at Mountain Cove Marina were destroyed or damaged.

Mark Northern said he was in his houseboat at the marina when the storm hit.

"It just took me and everybody on that dock like we were just toys," he told NBC affiliate WBIR-TV. "It happened so fast that I didn't even know where I was until I walked out to the front of the houseboat ... there was wreckage as high as you could see."

Several trailers were knocked over at a campground in Wears Valley, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported

The storm cut power to some 56,000 households in eastern Tennessee, including parts of Knoxville. The local utility said it could take several days for power to be restored to everyone.

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