GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — Panic ensued late Tuesday night as water gushed from higher elevations in the Smoky Mountains to the Greenbrier Campground.
The campground, once filled with campers and tents, quickly became part of the Little Pigeon River.
“People screaming and kids crying,” said Justin Spurk.
Spurk and his wife were preparing to go to sleep in their tent when a neighbor warned them about the rising water, urging them to get to higher ground.
“We hurried up and jumped out,” said Spurk. “We had to stack picnic tables like two on top of each other just because the water was like up to here. All the adults, we stood in the water and put the kids up on top of the picnic tables.
Spurk and his neighbors were eventually rescued by first responders. They’re thankful the biggest thing they lost was their tent. In another area of the campground–where water and damage were the worst–another family was also struggling.
“I was panicking the whole time,” said Jorge Alcantar, whose family is visiting the Smokies from Florida. “Was having a good day hiking and stuff. We’ve got pictures of, maybe two, three hours, on my Snapchat we were all happy and stuff and everything was all good.”
Alcantar and his dog left their site for ten minutes–when they returned–everything had changed. Rushing water prevented them from getting to their family. Alcantar watched as his wife and four-year-old daughter struggled to get on top of a table as the water rose.
“I was yelling, my dog was trying to cross the river. I tried to, but it was too strong. There was debris flying by. Family was ok, they got on the bench, on the picnic table, and was waving the lantern, trying to get help. I went to the front and everybody was panicking,” said Alcantar.
As he watched his family make their way to safety. Alcantar also watched as his two cars were swept away by the current.
“Our car was smashed into a tree, glass everywhere, it was horrible. Mud was everywhere inside the car. Just got to take it day by day everybody is still stressed a little bit,” said Alcantar.
Alcantar isn’t alone. Several others cars were swept away during Tuesday night’s storm. Thankfully, only cars and material items were lost. According to Sevier County EMA, there were no injuries.
The campground has been closed, many people spent the day packing their belongings and are moving out. Machinery has been brought in and is now hauling dirt and gravel to fix camping sites. As many people spent the day leaving, others spent the day coming back to retrieve their things. Spurk spent most of Wednesday walking alongside the river, trying to find some, if any, of his belongings.
“I found my cooler and that was about it. There’s all kinds of stuff, tents in trees, taillights from cars stuck in the side of the trees. A golf cart looks like it spent the night in a tree,” said Spurk.
But many folks, like Gina Powers, say they’ve been coming to this campsite for years, but now they aren’t sure when or if they’ll be back.
“I think how they decide to deal with this, because all businesses have the natural disaster clause, so I think ever how Greenbrier decides to deal with this disaster will depend on whether are going to be committed to coming back here,” said Powers.
Time will only tell whether this remains a popular camping spot here in the Smokies. For now, major cleanup remains underway.