GB Residents Rebound

Greenback residents rebound from ravages of 2011 tornado

By Joel Davis

Nearly a year after episodes of heavy weather wreaked damage throughout the area, Blount County residents have traveled quite a distance down the road to recovery.

On March 23, 2011, a tornado ravaged sections of Greenback, destroying six houses, four mobile homes and one business. Three houses received major damage, and 17 received minor damage.

The three-story home of pastor David Cooper of New Life Ministries Christian Center, off Janeway Road, was one of those destroyed, but, fast forward nearly 13 months, and life for his family has returned to normal.

“It’s really been a hectic year,” Cooper said. “We got our house all built back, and we got moved back in on Oct. 19. For a house to be completely torn down in March and then to move back in October wasn’t too awfully bad.”

Some aspects of Cooper’s life have changed. After replacing the shop building on his property, he hasn’t gotten back into the swing of his hobby — building muscle cars in his spare time.

“I probably will never go back completely (to building muscle cars) like we were, but I’ve built the shop back anyway,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of stuff going on in the ministry right now, but we’re doing really good, all things considered.”

According to the National Weather Service, the tornado traveled 4.5 miles through southwest Loudon and southeast Blount County. When the funnel cloud first touched down near Greenback, it was producing maximum wind speeds of 90 mph and a path width of 20 yards.

The tornado continued to move northeast and across Highways 95 and 411 into Blount County where it increased in intensity to an EF-2 with maximum wind speeds at 120 mph and a path width of 125 yards. At its peak, the tornado’s path width increased to a maximum of 500 yards. Winds reached maximum intensity at 140 mph, rating an EF-3, before finally dissipating.

Town ‘looking good’

Cooper said his neighborhood has mostly recovered from the damage caused by the tornado. “Everybody is just about recuperated. There were some people who didn’t have insurance that just had to leave, but I think that everybody who was insured properly is just about back to a normal life.”

Greenback Mayor Tom Peeler said that his town has recovered nicely. “It’s looking good. We’ve got very few problems left. Right now things in are pretty well cleaned up. You wouldn’t even think it happened.”

One of the businesses that was destroyed by the tornado was Tommy Orr’s automotive shop on U.S. Highway 411 South. The building also housed the office of his son, Terry, a general contractor.

The family waited until earlier this year to begin rebuilding the facility. “My dad is 76, and he wanted some time to think about whether he wanted to go back and build everything back,” Terry Orr said.

Now, work is almost done on the buildings. “We’ve been able to get the structures up and get the materials and our tools back in there,” Terry Orr said. “I wouldn’t call it 100 percent back operational, but we’re close.”

Roofers not done

The tornado wasn’t the only inclement weather that left its mark on Blount County. On April 27, a series of severe thunderstorms hit Blount County and other parts of the state. In all, Tennessee suffered 34 fatalities and more than 500 homes were destroyed or sustained major damage because of the storms.

Locally, much of the damage resulted from hail. The damage was so widespread that, nearly a year later, roofing companies are still repairing damage from the storm.

Kenny Talbott, regional manager for Farm Bureau Insurance of Tennessee, said that most storm-related insurance claims from customers in Blount and surrounding counties have been settled.

“The brunt of it, unless there are some extenuating circumstances, has been paid and settled,” Talbott said. “There are still a lot of roofs being worked on. A lot of people wanted to wait until warm weather for that. I can say that easily 95 percent has been taken care of.”