County was ‘storm ready’

The director of Sequoyah County Emergency Management praised the efforts of Blackgum and other local and neighboring fire departments and emergency personnel who cleaned and removed debris, reconnected utilities, and even helped direct traffic after one of the most damaging tornados to hit Sequoyah County.

 “Sequoyah County is blessed just absolutely fortunate. We had no injuries or fatalities and help began arriving as soon as the storm hit,” Steve Rutherford, director of Sequoyah County Emergency Management, said.

About 30 residential homes and structures were either destroyed or damaged while most of Sequoyah County was without electricity after the storm hit after around 9:30 p.m. Friday. The power was out until Sunday evening and the total cost of damages may not be learned for awhile, Rutherford said. 

“But one thing's certain, Sequoyah County was storm ready and we are just fortunate to not have anyone get hurt or die,” he said.

According to the survey summary of the tornado released by the National Weather Service, the tornado  developed near Blackgum located in the northwestern part of Sequoyah County.  The tornado moved northeast along the eastern shores of Lake Tenkiller in Cherokee County damaging or destroying numerous homes near Lake Tenkiller, Blackgum Community and turning boats completely over and destroying some at the Snake Creek Marina. In the Blackgum Community along Blackgum Landing Road, the tornado leveled some houses while scattering debris from several boat storage businesses. 

Sue's Recycling which provided waste and recycling services for residents living in and around the lake area, was completely destroyed with only vehicles that looked untouched.

Outbuildings were also destroyed and many trees and power poles were snapped. Hangars at the airport, west of Cookson were destroyed. The tornado continued northeast from near Cookson and crossed into Adair County on U.S. Highway 51 east of Eldon and south of Proctor. 

Further damage will be assessed from this tornado on Sunday to determine the ending point which may be as far north as Southern Delaware County. The maximum wind in this tornado so far was determined from damages sustained to several lake houses and extensive tree damage that was substantial in several areas, the survey reads.

“This storm was classified as an EF2 with strong wind speeds of 111 to 135 mph. It hit Blackgum around 9:43 p.m. with its ending time and location undetermined.

Residents were cleaning and sorting through some of the rummage left from the damage Saturday.

Leroy Cowart, a Tenkiller resident who rented some storage stalls from a boat and storage business that was completely wiped out, said storage buildings seemed to be damaged the most. 

“I lost some things but boats and things like that can be replaced.. There's one person who had a lot of antiques stored and those are things that can't be replaced so I feel bad for them,” he said.

Cowart said Snake Creek Marina, Chicken Creek and Sue's Recycling were all gone.

J.P. Simon who owns a boat and RV business said boats and other recreational vehicles were destroyed but other valuables belonging to people such as pictures can't be replaced. There's about 40 to 50 homes in this area and many received some type of damage from the storm. But we will salvage what we can and rebuilt the rest,” Simon said.

Tela Brown who lives across from the boat and storage business said she did not hear any warnings except one then the storm hit.

“It only lasted a few seconds. I immediately became concerned about the neighbors. We're all family here. The Cooks, who had to be rescued from the only part of the house that was still standing. Merle Plew who is deaf. We all take care of one another and that's just what we began doing,” she said.

Plew, 82,  said a board came through the wall of his house.

“I heard a loud noise and I thought it was just lightening,” he said.

A neighbor who came by to check on Plew, Bob Robertson said a tornado hit Black Gum in 1973. 

“I don't think it was this bad back then,” Robertson said.

Amber Robertson with help from some friends was busy cleaning around her mother and stepfather's home.

“When I first arrived here, it looked like a war zone,” she said.

Loren and Karen Cook, became trapped and had to be rescued from the only part of their house left standing after the tornado blew the rest.

“I grew up in this house,” Robertson said.

“When I arrived here, it was just shocking to see all of this. We're just thankful to God they're fine.”

Rutherford said he is currently in the process of obtaining assessments of damages which will be submitted to the state. 

“I don't know if we'll get help. I know some of the people had insurance and they're working on those applications right now,” Rutherford said.

“I do commend the Blackgum Fire Department for a fantastic job and being prepared. We had about 180 electric poles down throughout the county and as of Sunday, everyone's electric should have been back on so I'm thankful for the utility people who worked many hours to get everyone's electric working. 

“We had people calling and asking us if we needed help. We had an air crew ready on the ground but we didn't need the services,” Rutherford said.

“You never think something like this will happen in your home county but when it does, it's good to know we were prepared.”

Sequoyah County Times

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