To the City of Gatlinburg,
You are an American icon - known for the beloved National Park that surrounds you, appreciated for the people and places within. People have fond memories of childhood trips, weekend getaways and honeymoons along your streets. That all changed within minutes Monday and so did East Tennessee. As I sat and watched the local news channels cut in to tell folks that the city was being evacuated I turned to social media for more. That’s what newsies do and 23 years in the business stays with you and you need information.
The Knoxville TV viewers watched as small fires turned larger and people tried to leave - some faster than others, while our first responders tried to keep everyone calm and safe. No matter how trained you are, this is a tough scene.
We watched as some were excited for the rain hitting our roofs, hoping the rain would make it to Gatlinburg. Our hopes were high thinking it might help save this city that so many hold so dear. We watched as sky cameras that we typically use to see the sunrise and sunset captured the unthinkable.
We saw news anchors trying to figure out what to say and how to say it. We hung on the words of meteorologists - anxious to see what was coming. Would anything help?
Friends started checking themselves safe in the fires as most of the country does not know the proximity of Knoxville to Gatlinburg. We enjoy views of those glorious mountains daily, but at a safe distance on this evening.
As more and more people started realizing that Gatlinburg might not make it through the night, everyone started becoming louder and then - more silent as the night went on.
Some never went to sleep; some only for a few hours to wake up in darkness and see people walking around shelters in blankets on their television. We checked to see what friends and family were saying on social media. As national media crews rolled towards Gatlinburg, other issues in the world were unfolding, but no one understands the love that East Tennessee has for its mountains. They call to you throughout the year. Whether you drive, bike or hike them - they are there.
As the sun started to rise and the smoke was still prevalent, many issued pleas to assist. The basics - water, snack, blankets along with thoughts and prayers.
The call went out and the call was answered. People want to help.
We have to help - because Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are not only people’s homes they are destinations. People make memories there. You are important to our region and our state. And we stand with you.
To Knoxville and the surrounding communities,
While we wait for answers, continue to respond to the needs of our friends and neighbors. Maybe you have small items that would be new to someone else. Clothes that sit in your closet that you know you won’t wear any time soon. Wood that you might have been saving for a project. We all have to be a part of this rebuilding process.