Deadly Weather Buffets Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah National Parks
Powerful winds and heavy rains descended on the Appalachians on Sunday and lingered into Monday, downing trees, flooding roads, and resulting in a death in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The fatality occurred Sunday night about 8 p.m. when winds felled trees atop a passenger car traveling Newfound Gap Road in the park. Killed was Tonya Renee Eichler, 39, of Sevierville, Tennessee, the park reported. According to park reports, several large trees fell from the west side of the road directly onto the front passenger side of the vehicle as it was passing the Chimney Tops Picnic area. The Nissan was driven by Jody Simonds also of Sevierville, the park release said. A third occupant, his juvenile daughter, was sitting in the back seat of the car.
The vehicle was severely damaged from the fallen trees, causing the roof to collapse on the passenger side. Both Mr. Simonds and his daughter were able to climb out of a window, according to the park. Before rescue personnel arrived on scene, a motorist with a chainsaw stopped to assist and began cutting the trees in an attempt to free Ms. Eichler. Gatlinburg paramedics assisted park rangers in employing the jaws-of-life to extricate the victim from the vehicle. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Earlier Sunday winds in the park were reported to have reached gusts of 70 mph. While they largely had abated by the time of the accident, the park's soils were highly saturated from rainfall and snow melt, the park reported.
Flooding also reportedly led to the closure early Monday of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Later Monday, officials in Great Smoky reported that a rock slide had closed the southbound lanes of the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Spur. The rock slide is on the City of Pigeon Forge owned portion of the Spur, the park said in a release.
"At this time, officials with the city, national park, and TDOT (Tennessee Department of Transportation) are working through a traffic plan to allow two-way traffic on the northbound lanes of the Spur. It will take some time to put in place the detour signage necessary to direct safe traffic. Park officials are assisting with traffic and Pigeon Forge officials will be responsible for the slide clean up," the park reported Monday afternoon. "It is unclear at this time, how long it will take to remove the debris. We will update you when the traffic plan is in place. But right now, motorists are not able to access the Spur from the Pigeon Forge end."