Updated 8 p.m., Dec. 1
ALCOA, Tenn. (Dec. 1, 2016) – Tornadoes touched down in four counties of Holston Conference early on Nov. 30, killing two, injuring several, and destroying homes and businesses.
The tornadoes shocked residents of McMinn, Polk, Marion, and Sequatchie Counties, just one day after they watched in horror as friends and family in another east Tennessee county, Sevier, suffered from wildfire devastation.
"We got an emergency alert about 1 a.m. and went to the basement. Pretty scary," said the Rev. Stella Roberts, a resident of Athens.
Keith Memorial United Methodist Church opened as a Red Cross shelter, as the city of Athens struggled with impassable roads and electricity and cell-phone outages. At least 20 injuries were reported in McMinn County and schools were closed.
“We are okay,” said the Rev. Will Shelton, associate pastor, on Wednesday morning. “This is our first go-round with the Red Cross, just signed this agreement a few months ago.”
Later on Wednesday, Shelton reported that seven people were resting in the shelter, including some who were "released from the hospital but do not have homes to return to.”
The shelter is expected to close today, he said, "as folks are either able to get back in their homes or transition into something new.
Tennessee Wesleyan University closed its Athens campus on Wednesday.
"No damage at TWU and students are safe," officials reported to The Call. "Significant damage to businesses and homes within a mile of campus. We have many road closures and some power outages throughout the county. Please keep the area and our emergency personnel and line crews in your prayers."
The Rev. Hugh Kilgore, Cleveland District superintendent, reported that most United Methodist churches in McMinn County and Polk County were safe and undamaged.
However, Cedar Springs United Methodist Church received damage to the roof and porch railing as well as "extensive" damage to surrounding trees, according to the Rev. James David Neel. "It's still undetermined if we'll be able to hold services this weekend as there is quite a bit of cleanup in our part of Athens."
Two people reportedly died in Polk County and two were injured. Fifty homes were damaged or destroyed, including the Ocoee post office and a fire station, according to WDEF.
In McMinn County, at least 20 were injured and 30 structures were damaged or destroyed, including a supermarket and the Daily Post-Athenian news office, according to WATE. Three were injured in Marion County, according to NBC News.
A tornado also landed in southern Sequatchie County, including Dunlap, but no fatalities were reported. The Rev. Brenda Carroll, Chattanooga District superintendent, requested prayers on Wednesday morning. “[It’s] still raining and damage [has not been] accessed.”
Later, Carroll reported that no churches had been damaged in Marion or Sequatchie Counties.
Holston Conference will respond to help residents of the three counties as needed, said the Rev. Michael Sluder, director of connectional ministries.
Make checks to “Holston Conference” with “Tornadoes” on the memo line and mail to: Holston Conference, P.O. Box 850, Alcoa, TN 37701. It's also possible to give online.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.