Tennessee wildfires death toll continues to rise today. There are now 13 confirmed casualties, including one person who died from a heart attack while fleeing the flames. Mayor of Sevier County spoke this morning stating that an estimated 90 percent of the search area has now been cleared. Gatlinburg officials released the names of six the victims during a press conference earlier this morning, just before the city began allowing residents back inside the affected areas to survey the damage: John and Janet Teglar, 70 and 71, Jon and Janet Summers, 60 and 61, May Vance, 75, and Alice Hagler, age 70.
Homeowners, renters, and other inhabitors of the affected areas should report any missing persons’ activity to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Gatlinburg local authorities and the TBI are working in coordination to find and account for all 14,000 residents involved in the wildfires. The Tennessee wildfires death toll is not expected to rise much further, as much of the area has already been searched.
“Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said, ‘We hope and pray the death toll does not climb.'”
Officials in Gatlinburg, TN, hope to have the location opened to the public by Wednesday. The speed in which access is being granted to civilians is reportedly due to the pressure locals have placed on authorities to re-enter the area. Traffic lines into the city today have been endless as residents must provide identification and proof of such residency to be cleared for entry. Police barricades have been set up all around the city since early this week.
— Dolly Parton (@DollyParton) December 1, 2016
Sevier County Mayor, Larry Waters released an online address during this morning’s press conference that is available to the public. It contains an interactive map that will provide inhabitants with valuable information regarding their homes. The Tennessee wildfires death toll has officially been deemed man-made, but workers continue to work to identify the exact cause of the wildfires.
Towards the end of the morning’s press conference, reporters engaged in a heated debate with officials concerning the efficiency of Gatlinburg’s warning systems. It was noted that the first alerts were not sent out by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) until approximately 9 p.m. EST. The fires had begun their uproar nearly three hours prior at approximately 6 p.m. EST. Some people received no warning at all due to system failures.
When confronted with the emergency management issues, Mayor Waters expressed a bit of frustration, saying “We’re going to evaluate the responses and what went on at the appropriate time … That time is not now.” Residents must clearly tread lightly as they re-enter the scorched mountains to return to what is left of their homes. The Tennessee wildfires death toll may easily climb if people are not cautious. Why the town would allow residents to return when the land is not yet deemed safe is quite a mystery.
“‘The city is not implying that private property is safe … People may encounter downed powerlines or other hazards,’ said City Manager Cindy Cameron Ogle.”
One local was quoted saying, “It feels like Gatlinburg is more worried about how to rebuild than they are about their people.” It is not difficult to understand this outlook as business in much of the area is already returning to normal. The famed Dollywood amusement park is scheduled to reopen its gates on Friday. The rest of the coveted location will be opened to the public as early as Wednesday of this week. While the Tennessee wildfires death toll continues to rise, the people in power seem more worried about resuming normal business operations.
[Featured Image by Mark Humphrey/AP Images]