GATLINBURG (WATE) – Residents, business owners and renters formed long lines Friday as Gatlinburg city leaders opened up for the first time limited access to view and inspect properties damaged in the wildfires.
City Manager Cindy Ogle said the process went far more smoothly than they anticipated, but the lines were still long and many people didn’t make it in by the 5 p.m. cut off. Many of the ones who did make it in found there was nothing left of their property.
“This was the kitchen right here. It looks so small,” said homeowner Joe Whaley.
He’s called the place home since February, but now it’s gone. Neighbors, with better luck, stopped by to see if he’s okay.
“It was a great little place, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “It was so green and luscious looking up over the river and up through the woods. Now it’s all gone.”
Joe Whaley says he couldn’t find anything that was salvageable, so he marked his address beside the red Xs.
“Insurance guy said he could find it. I said, ‘No you won’t, you can’t find it, there’s no way. No way to identify it from that house, or that house, or that house.’”
Daniel Whaley is still haunted by the memories of Monday night.
“People were blowing horns, yelling at the top of their longs, ‘Please evacuate now!’” he said.
Friday he packed what he could for a second time, grateful his home was spared.
“We’re just blessed is all, blessed,” he said.
Both Whaleys believe the community is blessed, too.
“It’ll be like the Phoenix, you watch. Gatlinburg will be a great place for everyone to come see again,” said Daniel Whaley.