Holt's Corner man has close call during Wednesday storms

Friday, April 29, 2011
Joe Kelly's door was blown off its tracks by winds he thought would suck him from the building.

Joe Kelly was still trembling a few hours after strong winds blew through his home at Holt's Corner where a friend was calling one of the dogs "Toto," like in the Wizard of Oz.

The wind "liked to have sucked me out of the house," Kelly said of the serious side of his experience Wednesday morning at his Nashville Highway home. "It sucked the garage door off its tracks and broke it."

Kelly's brush with death was one of at least two near-fatal moments during Wednesday's storms that killed at least 32 people in Tennessee and more than 200 across the South.

A Duck River Electric Membership Corp. employee was struck by lightning while on a pole along Franklin Pike, but he "was checked out and is all right," DREMC Operations Superintendent Timmy Carey confirmed of the mid-day lightning bolt.

It was probably seven hours earlier, when Kelly was walking out his door at 6069 Nashville Highway to go to work. He's the proprietor of Kelly's Market at Kirkland. He lives on the east side of the highway. CSX railroad tracks are just west of the road.

"I heard the sound of a train," Kelly said. "But I never heard a train like that."

The wind was strong.

"It was about to pull my shirt off," he said, describing what persuaded him to go back in his house, go to his safe place, and hold on.

About the same time, Tracy Blackwell and her boys were asleep in their home rented from Jan Darnell on Maple Street, Chapel Hill.

"I heard a big pop and a buzzing noise and that's when the power went out," Blackwell said. "I saw a big ball of fire out my window. It was a big red light. Then everything stopped."

Her sons slept through it all.

Across the road, Rick Mabry, 201 Maple St., had "heard a big noise while asleep and then there was no power," he said.

Mabry kept a flashlight by his bed: "I thought something would happen. The wind was blowing pretty hard and the rain was heavy. It was scary."

Mabry is a painter and he wasn't the only tradesman who was prepared.

Mark Blanchett, also of Maple Street, had a small generator providing electricity for his freezer, so he wouldn't lose meat and other perishables.

"I work construction so it works double," Blanchett said. He "heard a big howling wind that sounded like a freight train" at about 5 a.m. Wednesday when the power failed.

Blanchett spoke at Laws Hill Market where Grady Martin, one of the proprietors, said, "We've got a dead spot of power between here and Holt's Corner."

Without power along such a section of the highway, Martin had more customers than usual, he said before noon.

Chapel Hill Elementary School 4th grader Daniel Lee was having a meal at the store with his father, Schjotty, and grandfather, Nathan Todd. Marshall County Schools were closed because of the storm.

Daniel didn't miss going to school Wednesday, explaining: "No. Ask any kid" and they'll say the same thing. So on Wednesday, his plans were to "make sure I don't get killed by a tornado."

Daniel knows his safe place, he said, "But we could be fishing. This is good fishing weather. I can't wait for it to stop."

Shortly after noon, police radio scanners were crackling with an announcement about a DREMC lineman on Franklin Pike.

DREMC Lineman Keith Caneer of Marshall County was on a pole near Wiles Lane, Power Co-operative Member Services Director Charlie McDonald said.

Maury Regional Medical Center was "in the process of releasing him" at about 3 p.m., McDonald said. "There were no internal injuries...

"If I know Keith, and if they don't put some restriction on him," McDonald said, "he'll be back at work tonight," Wednesday.

Marshall County Emergency Management Agency Director Bob Hopkins said at about 6:30 a.m. that there had been gas leaks, too.

Hopkins' early assessment - that Chapel Hill suffered more damage than other areas of Marshall County - held true even after a second storm blew through at mid-day.

Approximately 6,500 customer meters were powerless at one time or another on Wednesday, the Duck River membership director said.

"It was a widespread storm that started in Maury County and went to Unionville and then through Bedford County," McDonald said.