‘You just don’t think anything like that would happen’: Greene Co. EMA director recounts fatal 2011 tornadoes

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GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – On April 27, 2011, tornadoes devastated much of the Tri-Cities, and five of those tornadoes happened to touch down in Greene County.

“We were prepared as much as we could be. Were we ever ready to say that Greene County would have five tornadoes in one night? No!” said Greene County Emergency Management Director Heather Sipe. “If you would have told me that as a meteorologist that something that could happen, I would have said, you’re crazy.”

Sipe said there were almost 700 people sheltered in Greene County the night of the tornadoes.  Many never dreamed tornadoes would tear apart their communities in the mountains.

“When those winds came in, it was almost like a pinball machine,” Sipe said. “Those tornadoes were just bouncing off everywhere, but I think even today that people still have that misconception that the mountains protect us.”

The five Greene County tornadoes touched down in five hours. 

The Camp Creek tornado struck at 9:51 p.m. with top wind speeds of 150 mph. It left a 16-mile path of destruction which at times was 1,500 yards wide. Six people died in that storm.  

The Horse Creek tornado struck at 11:40 p.m. with winds of 160 mph. It left a 14-mile path of destruction that was at times 1,000 yards wide. Two people died.

“With the first funeral procession that came through, we were still at the crossroads, and we all stopped everything we were doing to pay respect and I think, for there it hit me – that people died in this,” Sipe said. “People perished in this and I just kind of sat down and I cried.”

While recounting what happened 10 years ago, Sipe issued a reminder to her neighbors.

“You just don’t think anything like that would happen, but it did, and it could happen again,” Sipe said.

As an emergency official, she also provided some advice.

“Everybody just needs to be prepared,” Sipe said. “Not only as responders or key officials, but also the community. You’ve got to take care of yourself too.”

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