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Westgate Resort destroyed by Gatlinburg fires

02 December 2016
Westgate Resort destroyed by Gatlinburg fires

A conviction would carry a sentence of one to six years in jail and up to $3,000 in fines. Officials suspect nearly half of them are arson.

The death toll from the wildfires raging in several southern U.S. states has risen to seven as search-and-rescue operations continue.

Tod Hyslop, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Morristown, Tennessee, says the Gatlinburg area got about ¾ of an inch to 1 inch of rain overnight Tuesday into Wednesday.

On Wednesday, authorities in Gatlinburg, Tenn., said the confirmed death toll had grown to four people.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters also said Wednesday that almost four dozen people had been injured in the fires. He did not go into details about the rescue, and said authorities have not positively identified the dead.

Hagler's relatives say they hope she might be taking shelter with someone and just hasn't been able to make contact.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event", Waters said. "It was like we were in hell", said Linda Monholland, who was working at Park View Inn in Gatlinburg when she and five other people fled on foot.

Midday Nov. 30, the diocese was still awaiting word on the condition of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Gatlinburg, he said in a statement posted on the diocesan website.

With more than 10,000 people without power, emergency workers spent much of Wednesday clearing mudslides, debris and power lines. Officials say most of the burned areas will have been searched by the end of Thursday. Diapers, wipes and other items are stacked as donations arrive for residents, displaced by the mandatory evacuations caused by the wildfires, gather at Rocky Top Sport World on US321 just outside of Gat.

"This is Tennessee. When you watched the floods back in 2010 take place, we banded together, put our arms around one another and the Volunteer State come in as volunteers", said Pastor Davis.

The 57-year-old, privately employed handyman discovered that his house had been consumed by the wildfires raging through the Great Smoky Mountains while flat on his back with pneumonia in a hospital. Thousands of people raced through a hell-like landscape to escape wildfires that killed several people and destroyed hundreds of homes in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Gatlinburg, a city that opens up to 11 million visitors annually, is facing a new reality.

The mayor lost the home that he built himself, two dogs plus all seven of the condominium buildings he owned. The mayor said the three were OK. After that, he'll have to start over from scratch.

During wildfires Monday night, many buildings in Gatlinburg were burned to their foundation.

The flames reached the doorstep of Dollywood, the theme park named after Parton, but the park was spared any significant damage and will reopen Friday. The park was not damaged. As I said earlier this morning, we're strong.

Catholic parishioners in the Diocese of Knoxville are among those who have lost homes and businesses in the wildfires that ravaged tourist areas in the Great Smoky Mountains region, said Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville. But state officials, speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, believe that the fires may have been man-made in nature.

In eastern Tennessee, deadly wildfires are still burning and authorities say it's still too unsafe for thousands of people to return to their damaged and destroyed homes and businesses.

Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner said officials were discussing the possibility of re-opening the town Friday, which would give business owners and residents their first look at the damage in a city that's been closed since Monday night.

Though rain has fallen Wednesday, fire officials say the wildfire threat isn't over.

Werner was one of several city officials managing the crisis while dealing with personal losses. Three other people who had been trapped since the wildfires began were rescued.