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BLOWN AWAY

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National Weather Service confirms Kingston hit by tornado

By Cindy Simpson

The buzz of chainsaws echoed throughout Kingston late this week as cleanup continued from a tornado that tore through Tuesday afternoon.

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Emergency officials originally called the blast straight-line winds, but the National Weather Service of Morristown weighed in with the tornado confirmation Wednesday.

Much of Roane County saw power outages and hundreds of downed trees after the storm that spawned the EF0-rated twister.

An EF0 rating means winds can get as high as 86 mph. The Kingston storm’s winds peaked at 80 mph, officials said.

The tornado cut a path through the trees on a ridge east of downtown Kingston.

Kendall Bear, Rockwood Electric Utility manager, was out Wednesday with tree-cutting crews dealing with the aftermath.

“Fifth and Third streets look like a disaster,” Bear said of Kingston.

Rehnee and Terry Harvey can vouch for that. They were driving with their dachshund, Scarlett, when a tree struck their pickup at the corner of Third and Stinnett streets.

“It fell right on our heads,” Rehnee said.

The couple watched from inside as Kingston Fire Department cut their vehicle free.

Their pooch was shaken by the experience.

“She’s not going to trust us to go home anymore,” Rehnee said.

Many people who saw no other damage were affected by power outages.

Bear estimated around 7,000 REU customers — about half of the utility’s base — lost power.

Roane County emergency officials used Facebook postings to warn people of the widespread nature of the damage and to issue a call for patience.

“We have been working on broken poles all night,” Bear said Wednesday. “Some of us didn’t even go home yesterday. We just kept on working.

“None of our guys have slept,” he added.

On Thursday, REU had much of the power restored.

“We should get most of these — if not all of them — today,” Bear said.

Harriman Utility Board also had widespread outages in its system.

“The main problem in restoring power in this type of situation is that there are a lot of single-customer outages,” said HUB manager Bill Young. “When you cover a 250-square-mile area that has a lot of rural territory, it just takes a lot of time to travel and restore each customer.”

Several roads in Kingston and Roane County were closed Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning because of downed trees and power lines.

Sheriff Jack Stockton sent inmate crews from the jail to help Kingston with the cleanup. They had plenty of work nearby on Third Street, which was closed much of the day.

The Roane County Road Department was still working Thursday, as well.

“We are still finding trees,” said assistant road superintendent Tony Brown. “We have eight crews out.”

Brown said the county had more than 100 calls of downed trees, and is working on the backlog.

“Most of these big trees require backhoes,” he explained. The road department also had inmate help from the jail.

Harriman Police Chief Randy Heidle said a patrol car was damaged because of the storms. It was struck by a tree while it sat parked in a patrolman’s driveway.

While the storm sent many people seeking shelter, one Kingston resident rode most of it out on her porch.

Irene Russell lives in Lakewood Village, a senior community where trees were tossed like kindling by the abrupt storm.

“I wanted to see it,” said Russell. “When it got raining so hard you couldn’t see the trees, that is when I finally got up. I couldn’t hardly get the door open.”

She pointed out a fallen tree that touched the edge of her porch.

“That tree was just sitting on the ground,” Russell said. “The next thing I know, it comes sliding on the porch.”

According to National Weather Service records, several tornadoes have been documented in Roane County in recent decades.

On Oct. 2, 1977, one hit near Midway, South of the River.

In Feb. 21, 1993, one was documented near New Midway to Oral, and another near Midway to Paint Rock.

On June 22, 2011, one was spotted near Dogwood Valley in far East Roane County.