Camper Killed As Severe Storm System Thrashes Natchez Trace Parkway

This before-and-after photo dramatically illustrates the impact of the April 26-27 storms on one stretch of the Natchez Trace Parkway. NPS photo.

On April 26th and 27th, a lengthy stretch of the Natchez Trace Parkway was impacted by major storms that inflicted heavy property damage . One camper was killed in his tent.

The storm system that roared through extensive areas of the Deep South last Wednesday and Thursday yielded numerous tornadoes, powerful straight-line winds, torrential rain, large hail, and dangerous lightning that combined to kill several hundred people and inflict heavy damage over thousands of square miles. Officials have described it as one of the worst such outbreaks on record.

Mississippi was heavily hit, sustaining damage in 48 of its 82 counties. At least 11 people were killed and 40 injured.

Among the heavily-hit areas of northern MIssissipi and southwestern Tennessee was a 300-mile long stretch of the Natchez Trace Parkway, a popular National Park System unit (5.9 million visits in 2010) stretching between Natchez, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee. High winds blew down an estimated 10,000 trees within the park boundaries, including hundreds along the roadway itself. A single 10-mile section took park crews most of a day to clear.

One parkway visitor was killed. The victim, 40-year Wade Sharp, was a lieutenant on the Covington , Louisiana, police force. Sharp was camping with his 9-year old daughter at Jeff Busby Park in Choctaw County, Mississippi, when a 125-foot tall sweetgum tree fell on their tent. Sharp's daughter was uninjured, having reportedly been sheltered by her father's body.

Although there were more than 10,000 travelers on the parkway when the storms hit, no other major injuries or fatalities were reported. Park staff handled about 350 calls for service, ranging from downed trees to stranded visitors, flooding, and numerous motor vehicle accidents. Damage assessments remain incomplete.

Natchez Trace was not the only southern park significantly damaged by this unusually fierce storm system. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the Tennessee/North Carolina border, early inspections showed that all of the park trails west of Cades Cove were heavily impacted by Wednesday's storms. Due to the numerous blowdowns, all of the trails between the Abrams Falls Trail Head and the Abrams Creek Ranger Station have been closed to horse use. The condition of the Rich Mountain Loop Trail near the start of the Cades Cove Loop Road is still undetermined.

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