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Tennessee Town Hit Hard by Storm

Aired November 11, 2002 - 10:45   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get back to the top story this morning, killer storms that are wreaking havoc along the eastern half of the United States. Mossy Grove, Tennessee, has been hard hit there. The first reports we got this morning was that perhaps town had been blown off the map.
Our Gary Tuchman, though, has finally arrived after traveling all morning, and he joins us by telephone with the latest firsthand look there -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we don't know how long the telephone service will work. Though very quickly, you're right. The town has not been blown off the map. There is extensive damage, many houses have been destroyed. We see a large church that has been partially destroyed, but the town still exists. That is very important to tell you. There are many residents are standing around wondering what's happened. But a lot of the houses have been unscathed.

We are told though in the small town, which only has a few hundred people, four people have been killed. We are told by some residents the four people killed were in a car when the tornado came through. They were in their car when this happened (UNINTELLIGIBLE), trying to evacuate.

In the state of Tennessee 17 people have been killed. Over this weekend, two storms coming through. We are told a short time ago a rescue worker here in Mossy Grove himself was killed. We don't know the detail how that happened, but that is coming from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, that a rescue member from the scene of this fatality.

So immense damage in Mossy Grove. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) wiped from the map. That was the initial report from the police, which is not the case as we sit here right now In the hill country of Tennessee. It's a very (UNINTELLIGIBLE) time as they clean up and try to figure out what happened -- Leon.

HARRIS: Let me ask you this Gary: Any late word about those still listed as missing? When last we checked, when last we spoke about all this, they were saying about 150 or so, and that was because they weren't able to get out and actually go door to door, or check with the different hospitals or services like that in the area to find out who's actually there and who's not there. What's the latest word on that?

TUCHMAN: They do believe that most if not all of the missing will eventually be found. There's absolutely no phone service in this area. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). So these people who are missing, are just people who they haven't been able to be in touch with. I can tell you, though, on radio stations in this area, what they're doing is they're having people call if I cannot get in touch with my relatives -- let me say their names. They're saying the names of all these missing people on the radio. So hopefully the people who are missing will listen to the radio and figure out a way to communicate with them. They're very that hopeful none of these missing people will be people who have perished in these storms.

HARRIS: Boy, I know these people are dealing with -- got enough to deal with right now. I know they may not want to stop and talk. But have you had a chance to talk with any of them yet -- Gary.

TUCHMAN: Yes. I've talked to people here in Mossy Grove, just standing out in the street right now. They can't use their phones, they have no electricity. It's a beautiful, sunny day, and they're just (UNINTELLIGIBLE) out. And they can't get by the police blockades where the worst of the damage is right now. But they're all talking about just how horrible and terrible and frightening of a night it was last night.

HARRIS: What did they tell you about what time it hit and I guess what the surprise was like?

TUCHMAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this is unusual to do it, but I'm standing next to people right now. Let me ask them directly.

HARRIS: Oh great, go ahead.

TUCHMAN: Sir, can I ask you a question? We're on CNN LIVE right now, and usually we do this where we can see you, but we can't see you now, but what time did the storm come through here last night?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I guess around 10:00, I guess.


Are you from here?

OK, we have some visitors -- are you from here, sir?

The three people I'm standing next to right now, none of them from here. They came up to see what's happened. I talked to a gentleman who is from here about five minutes ago. He said it was like 10:00 or 11:00 last that the storms hit, but it continues for a long time. That's what was frightening. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tornado warnings, usually it's pretty quick. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) go on forever, and it was frightening for the people here in Mossy Grove.

HARRIS: Gary, what's it like getting around there up there, Gary? The roads packed or what?

TUCHMAN: This a two-lane mountain road that goes in to Mossy Grove. To give you an idea of where we are, it's 40 miles west of Knoxville, Tennessee. Actually near the Brushy Mountain State Prison, right nearby. That was the prison that James Earl Ray was being kept in until he died. It's a very rural area. That's one of the reasons the prison is here because it's kind of in the middle of nowhere. So it's very hard to get here because there are only two lanes to the mountain. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

HARRIS: All right, good deal, Gary. Thanks, Gary. Appreciate that, and appreciate those people, their patience, giving us some time to talk with them.


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