Eight people were killed at Apison and 28 have been transported to hospitals as a tornado roared through the small community near the Georgia line around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Chief Ken Wilkerson of Hamilton County Emergency Medical Services said up to five of those who were transported are in critical condition, including a child who was airlifted.
Authorities said some of those injured were thrown from their homes, while others had crushing injuries or were impaled by flying objects.
Governor Bill Haslam, accompanied by Senator Bob Corker and others, surveyed the damage and held a news conference at Apison.
Noting there have been 33 confirmed storm fatalities in Tennessee, Governor Haslam said, “As we clear away debris and start the process of repairing lives, there are many in East Tennessee facing the unimaginable loss of a family member. On behalf of all Tennesseans, our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those affected by these storms.”
Trustee Bill Hullander said the dead included his cousin and her husband, who lived in a mobile home near him.
He said his daughter-in-law's cousin was missing at last report. He said that cousin had gone to visit another man. He said the man he had gone to visit was found dead in the road.
Mr. Hullander said his aunt who lives nearby was okay, but one of her neighbors had a broken arm and cuts from the fierce storm. He said it was difficult to reach Apison to help any of the victims because of the many trees and power lines down.
He said his house had some windows blown out and was missing some shingles, but he and his wife are okay. He said his son, Matt Hullander, had just built a new house nearby and it also was not damaged. However, he said the house began to fill up with the smell of propane so the son, his wife and young daughter spent the night with him and his wife.
Mr. Hullander said, "It sounded like they say - like a train coming through." He said three buildings on his property were flattened and a 24-foot trailer was bowled away. He said nearby power poles were snapped.
He said his son, Matt, looked out at the storm at one point. "He said he could see trees going down like dominoes."
Mr. Hullander, who lives on London Lane, said he was told there was a car up in a tree near his home and that a nearby brick house on Bill Jones Road, had been leveled along with another residence. He said the devastation was bad along Bates Road, which his relatives were killed.
A triage center was set up at the Apison School, but it was initially difficult for rescuers or the injured to get there. On Thursday morning, hundreds of volunteers showed up with chainsaws to help removed trees from homes and roadways.
Don Allen, director of county emergency services, called it "a sad day for Hamilton County." He said, “This is the worst storm on record in Hamilton County. We now have nine confirmed fatalities in Hamilton County.”
He said the area hit hardest appears to be between East Brainerd Road and Ringgold. Law enforcement agencies have blocked all roads into that area. Thirteen search and rescue teams comprised of volunteers from the community, led by members of the Hamilton County Sheriff Department, went into the area Thursday morning. Rescue efforts are being handled by the Tri-Community Volunteer Fire Department.
Mr. Allen said, “The top priority right now is to find and assist any live victims in the area. Second priority is clearing the roads and restoring power. Citizens will be allowed to enter the area as soon as it is released by the Sheriff’s Department.”
Chief Wilkerson said he is working to find out how many others may have been transported to area hospitals by other means for injuries related to the storm.
Sheriff Jim Hammond said, “We currently have remarkable cooperation with the most area law enforcement agencies. We urge citizens to remain at home and not to go around road blocks or to attempt to enter these areas that have been affected.”
He said, “There are lots of dangerous situations out there and people should use extreme caution."
Mr. Allen said that additional volunteers are not needed at the Apison Command Post at this time but that people should call the local Red Cross for other opportunities.
County Commissioner Chester Bankston said he was nearly a victim of the huge storm, saying he was at a state park when a tornado roared through, scattering RVs and other vehicles near him.
Commissioner Tim Boyd said his wife is a nurse who worked third shift trauma at Erlanger Hospital on Wednesday night. He said, "She said it was her worst night in working 33 years. The individual who works beside her lost his daughter at Ringgold last night."
Commissioner Joe Graham of Lookout Valley said he dug his wife's grandmother out of her damaged home and also helped a man out of his smashed trailer by breaking out a window.
Noting that some people were arrested just down the street from him for looting and that there are many sight-seers, he said, "People, please don't make this a tourist attraction."
Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said his department had offered help to the county at Apison as well as to Bradley County and Walker and Catoosa counties. He said those in the current police academy were dispatched to help at Apison.
Authorities said the tornado that hit Apison and then Ringgold roared up after devastating Tuscaloosa, Ala., and continued on all the way to North Carolina.
Senator Lamar Alexander said, “Honey and I offer our prayers for families across Tennessee who are dealing with the damage of this storm, particularly those who have lost loved ones. As Tennesseans did after last year’s floods, we will come together to start rebuilding, and I will do everything I can to make sure state and local requests for federal help are met quickly.”
Kim Dalton of Tennessee American Water Company said Thursday morning, "Last evening, I notified you of the Lookout Mountain/St Elmo booster station being without power. We now have the generator up and running for that station. The area of Lookout Mountain and Lookout Valley should see service restored to normal in a few hours.
"Our crews are currently working on the Crestwood Booster Station located on Pickering Avenue. The generator work will continue until we have the
facility back in power. Customers on Crestwood and Crestview could be experiencing low pressure or no water until the generator is operational.
"Because of the beautiful hills and mountains we have in Chattanooga,
Tennessee American Water has a number of pumps across the city to pump water up those hills and mountains. Those pumps take an enormous amount of power to operate. When there is a power outage those pumps are affected.
We usually can get service back to those pumps quickly. However, with the devastation our area has experienced, it will take longer than normal to get them up and running.
"Many people do not understand when power goes off they might experience issues with their water service so I hope this helps people understand a little more of the drinking water service they receive."