ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – A Northeast Tennessee man has died after a mudslide on State Route 70 in Hawkins County Thursday morning.
A report from the Tennessee Highway Patrol states that Steven Lawson, 62, was going south when his vehicle left the roadway, which washed away, rolled down a 200-foot embankment, and came to rest on the vehicle’s top.
Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesperson Mark Nagi says the road will be closed for an extended period of time.
A mile-long portion of the state route near Cave Springs Road is closed until further notice.
“They woke me up about 3 this morning, told me I had to evacuate. Course I was awake already because I heard it. Thought it was a thunder storm but it wasn’t. I just got these guys and got in the jeep and just been hanging around all morning. This rain is just unbelievable, never seen this much,” said homeowner Richard Northington.
TDOT road engineers are currently on the scene accessing the damage.
“I’ve never seen water coming out of these mountains and up where it caved at. I knew that was going to do it because they left too much dirt on top of that rock. Dirt don’t sit on top of rock and water running under it,” said Clyde Lyda.
Mr. Lyda and his wife, Ruby, were returning home mid-afternoon with their groceries, “We seen it on the news earlier this morning and it’s scary. This time the weather is you don’t know if the mountain is going to come down on you before you wake up the next morning or what.”
Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson tweeted that multiple mudslides were reported on Highway 70. Sheriff Lawson said emergency crews waited until daylight to assess damage to State Route 70 North in Hawkins County and search for victims.
WJHL spoke with rescue crews who said some voluntary evacuations are underway for surrounding homes.
At this time, it is unknown how many cars or homes were impacted by the mudslides.
“That’s terrible. That’s horrible for a vehicle to drop off and just drop off the road and go down like that. That’s our way in and out of town, everywhere we go, we go on down 70. It’s bad. You’d like to feel secure on your roads when you’re driving and that up there is just kind of shaky to see how the guardrail gave away and the cars just tumbled over,” said homeowner Barbara Bickel.
Members of the Kingsport Fire Department are assisting with search and rescue. Part of this technical rescue includes using rope to go down to vehicle assessing search efforts.
First responders with the technical rescue teams say they’re using laser technology and drones to pinpoint places down the slope to watch if material moves, and then they’ll change plans on rescue efforts.
News Channel 11 was told emergency responders across the region are on standby for rescue efforts.
The Hawkins County Rescue Squad says this type of landslide is extremely uncommon for the area and it’s one of the most critical incidents they ever responded to.