On Thursday, the National Weather Service confirmed that the damage across the Greenback community in Blount and Loudon counties was the result of a strong EF3 tornado, with winds of up to 160 mph.
Within a swath of destruction more than 100 yards wide and nearly 4 miles long, more than two-dozen homes and businesses were left damaged or destroyed. The entire community, however, managed to escape death and serious injury.
In a post-apocalytic scene of the area around U.S. Highway 411 and Lou Goddard Lane, electric poles were snapped, vehicles at a used car lot were piled like discarded toys, roofs were lifted off houses and whole businesses were left ripped open.
"This is probably the worst of the damage," said NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Tim Troutman, as he surveyed the scene of a three-story home demolished to its foundation on Ashbrook Lane in Blount County.
Troutman said the tornado was part of the same storm system that spawned at least one other twister of undetermined intensity confirmed near Watertown in Wilson County, east of Nashville.
No deaths or serious injuries were reported, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
A storm assessment team from the NWS office in Nashville also was inspecting damage in White County, near Sparta.
Greenback Mayor Tom Peeler was standing in his front yard talking on a radio with the chief of the local volunteer fire department when he first got word of the approaching storm.
No sooner had he heard the warning when the tornado struck.
"I kept hearing this roar like a train coming from back over by the (Greenback) school," Peeler said. "Then all of a sudden came the darnedest rain you ever saw in your life. I had to run back inside the house."
The storm lasted about 10 minutes, he said. "Not long after, the skies were clear and you could see the stars."
A Loudon County school board representative said the decades-old Greenback School survived, despite heavy damage to other buildings only a few blocks away.
At Viper Customs, a boat repair and restoration shop on U.S. 411 in Blount County, owner Jim Jackson said the storm hit during his heaviest workload of the year, when customers are trying to get their watercraft ready for the coming summer.
With some 25-30 boats housed inside his building - including about a half-dozen that had been repaired, polished and were awaiting delivery - the front wall was blown out, throwing whole engines and other debris against the back wall and onto the boats. At least one boat's hull was cracked.
The boats should be covered by the individual insurance of the owners, said Jackson, but not the $300,000 worth of uninsured tools and molds he had inside as well.
Across the road, John Dixon was amazed by the bulk of the debris that had been tossed around his father's property, including a 50-foot trailer.
"The frame is on the other side of the highway," Dixon said. "The rest of it must be in North Carolina.
"It's cars, boat trailers and electric transformers from the power lines. It looks like a war zone, like a bomb hit. There's debris everywhere."
Nearby on Old Niles Ferry Road, Jeff and Marquita McLemore spent Thursday trying to pick up the pieces at their 106-year-old home, where a portion of the roof, a garage and a covered patio were ripped away.
Jeff McLemore heard sirens Wednesday night and stepped out on his front patio to see electrical flashes in the sky. Then came a pulsating roar, he said.
He gathered his wife, 4-year-old daughter and his mother-in-law, and ran for the cellar. Yet as soon as they managed to take shelter it was over.
"Four or five seconds," Jeff McLemore said. "I've never seen anything like it."
In Loudon County, Sheriff Tim Guider teamed his deputies with firefighters and emergency medical personnel to search door to door to ensure that there were no casualties.
Despite heavily damaged houses, along with several barns and silos in the farming community, residents "dodged a bullet out here in Greenback," Guider said.
Back on Ashbrook Lane in Blount County, it was David Cooper's 11-year-old house that took an apparent direct hit. What once was a three-story home with a five-car garage was wiped away like a pile of bread crumbs.
Neither Cooper nor any of his family members were home at the time, though.
As pastor of New Life Ministries Christian Center, Cooper had traveled to Morristown, Tenn., to officiate a funeral Wednesday night. He first learned about the storm's damage to Greenback from television while he was stopped at a fast-food outlet in Jefferson City.
"I believe God had us where he wanted us," said Cooper, as family and church members sifted through the rubble Thursday. "If we had been here, there would have been no escape."
Staff writers Don Jacobs and Lola Alapo contributed to this report. Robert Wilson is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel. Hayes Hickman may be reached at 865-342-6323.
Marquita McLemore surveys her damaged home on Old Niles Ferry Road near Greenback on Thursday. A storm Wednesday night ripped away a portion of the roof, a garage and a covered patio.