SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Thousands of Sevier County residents and tourists were still waiting for power to be restored late Sunday, three days after a winter storm toppled trees and dumped several inches of snow on the area.
At 11 p.m., 3,389 Sevier County Electric System customers were without power. The company said crews are expected to have most power fully restored by Monday night.
Jordan Seals took his girlfriend Shayna Whitman to Sevierville for a surprise Wednesday night.
“So we started off this trip by getting engaged,” Whitman said.
They planned to stay in the cabin Thursday and Friday, and went grocery shopping. The couple said they had plenty of food for home cooked meals for a few days but that food was perishable. They planned to just enjoy the mountains.
“But instead we sat in a dark cabin with no power or water,” Whitman said.
Due to staff shortage around the holidays and because of COVID-19, plus a lot of downed trees and icy roads, the newly engaged couple didn’t have power or water for three nights and four days.
Whitman said they luckily had food and bottled water from grocery shopping the day before, but cooking was difficult without power.
“Nothing ever got fully cooked. I mean, we ate like half-cooked pasta,” Whitman said.
Seals said they and several other renters also stranded in the area gathered to help each other out.
“We all got together, we shared supplies, shared firewood. They gave us matches, we gave them water,” Seals said.
Seals said they were all stuck because the rentals were on a mountainous road, and ice covered one of the steeper stretches.
He said they couldn’t find a tow truck for “a reasonable price,” saying he was quoted about $800 for a tow.
At night, all they could do was layer up and snuggle with their puppy to stay warm.
“We were wearing like two pairs of sweatpants, three pairs of socks, and we’re laying in bed, we’re just hoping that the power comes on and the heat turns on,” Seals said.
“It was brutal,” he said.
They couldn’t reach the cabin rental company until after Christmas Day, and said they even tried calling 911, but were told nothing could be done unless they were in an emergency.
Meanwhile, neighbors were doing what they could for warmth.
“They were out there with picks and shovels trying to just saw … they were using table salt,” Seals and Whitman said.
They couple felt like nothing was getting done, but later learned SCES and Sevier County Highway Department were working non-stop.
“We’ve seen more trees since we’ve seen since probably 1993 when we had that blizzard of ’93,” said Sevier County Road Superintendent Jonas Smelcer.
Smelcer said their main job, besides clearing the snow, was clearing trees for utility crews.
“A lot of roads. We have some roads that are three miles and they’ll have 75 big pine trees across the road,” Smelcer said.
He said they still had several slick roads across the county, and were expecting more patches to become slick after the snow melted.
They were switching to a salt-gravel mix for that, but Smelcer said there were still areas his crews wouldn’t be able to get to, such as private roads.
“State law will not allow us to get on those roads, because then I could be the attorney general and say, ‘oh well what were you doing here?’ and all that stuff. So that’s what could happen,” Smelcer said.
The other crews that were working around the clock were focused on restoring power.
“Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 line crews are in here, and 15 tree trimming crews, and several operators, pole setting crews, so we’re, we’ve got about 230 men on the ground,” said Allen Robbins, Sevier County Electric System general manager.
On Sunday, utility crews made a big dent in the number of people getting power restored. Fallen trees were a big factor.
Robbins said it is hard-to-get-to areas that they needed to work on.
“There’s still a quite a bit of work to be done there, but we’re starting to get those on,” Robbins said.
Robbins said they were also dealing with phone issues due to the AT&T outage from the Nashville bombing.
SCES could receive calls, but they couldn’t talk with customers.
“First of all, we do know that they’re out (of power) and we are in some area getting those problems corrected. So I just ask them that, as tough as it is, and I understand it, to just please continue to be patient with us and we will get you on as soon as possible,” Robbins said.
As for Whitman and Seals, the warm sun was a blessing.
“(The ice) melted completely today. That was, if it wasn’t for that, I don’t know if we would even be in a hotel right now,” Seals said.
As they headed to the hotel in Knoxville, they saw the extent of the damage.
“It was either A: on the branches, I mean on the power lines itself, or B: they were actively cutting down,” Seals said.
Now, they’ll have an engagement they will never forget.
“We said from Wednesday night’s dinner to tonight’s dinner, we’re gonna cancel out the middle part and pretend that it never happened. We’re just going to continue on with our celebration,” Seals said.
Editor’s Note: The couple’s engagement photo was taken by Beauty in Brokenness Photography