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Blizzard of ’93 left lasting legacy

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By Terri Likens, Editor

This week, on March 12, marked the 20th anniversary of one of the biggest weather events Roane Countians have ever witnessed.

What they may not realize is the impacts of the Blizzard of 1993 are with them to this day.

State Sen. Ken Yager, who spent more than two decades as Roane County’s executive, was in charge at the time. Yager, who had just started his third of six terms, remembers the event well.

“We had heard days in advance — the perfect storm is about to come,” he said.

His reaction was pretty typical for residents who were used to warnings of winter storms that invariably petered out.

“I went to bed believing this is not going to happen,” Yager said. It turned into the county’s worst calamity since the Harriman flood of 1929 wiped out much of the city’s industry. He’s still incredulous at the scene the morning after the snow and blizzard winds came through.

“In some places, there were 5- or 6-foot drifts,” he said.

“It completely shut the county down,” Yager said. “We were just completely paralyzed by it.”

County officials, including emergency responders, had to dig out  of the snow with everyone else. The county emergency services office had only a part-time staff, and communication between agencies was extremely limited, Yager said.

“The technology and the communication seem so crude to me now,” Yager said.

Communication, where possible, was by telephone land line, he said.

Power and cable TV was knocked out throughout much of the county.Yager was able to get updates out to the public through a local radio station.

He remembers Dudley Evans, who later became a Rockwood councilman, putting out regular updates.

“They stayed on the air 24-7,” Yager said.

One of the most difficult things was getting ambulances out. In fact, for a while, the county could not — none of the vehicles then had four-wheel-drive.

In spite of the problems, Yager saw a lot of good during the crisis.

“In some ways, it was Roane County’s finest hour,” he said. Many residents with four-wheel-drive vehicles and chainsaws cleared fallen trees and helped deliver food, fuel and other necessities to neighbors.

Some grocery stores opened and let county officials get what they needed — settling up later.

The event led to some major changes — particularly in the county’s emergency services operations.The need for a full-time emergency services staff was clear.

“It was an easy sell,” Yager recalls.

The county now makes sure its ambulance fleet includes four-wheel drive vehicles.

Nowadays, the meteorological information is even better, and the communication systems include the sophisticated E-911 system, which is backed up with generators.

However, Scott Stout, now a critical part of the county’s emergency services team, says residents still need to maintain their own emergency readiness.

“People need to understand if bad weather is coming, they need to make provisions,” Stout said.