GATLINBURG, Tenn. (CBS News) – Now with 13 confirmed deaths, the devastating wildfire in Tennessee has killed more people than any other U.S. wildfire in the last 13 years.
At least 80 people were injured, a number of people are still missing — exactly how many is unknown – and more than 1,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Tennessee’s governor has declared a state of emergency.
Officials will finally allow residents inside the city of Gatlinburg for the first time since the evacuations earlier this week. They’ll have several hours to check out their homes and businesses, and see if they survived the flames, reports CBS News correspondent DeMarco Morgan.
Drone footage shows the widespread damage across Gatlinburg. The fire seemed to have a life of its own, destroying some buildings and leaving others unscathed.
One couple was on their honeymoon when they barely made it out in time.
“When we woke up Monday morning, we knew something was off because the view outside of the cabin was really smoky and foggy and it was an orange color,” Derek Wells said.
At a Red Cross shelter, notes with the names of loved ones still unaccounted for cover a message board, including members of the Reed family.
Nine-year-old Lily and 12-year-old Chloe were with their mom, Constance, the night of the fire. Michael Reed received a call from his wife that the flames were approaching their home. He hasn’t heard from them since.
Kela Inman and Donna Casey are nurses at the school that the missing girls attend.
“To have two of our own missing, it’s just — it’s devastating. We’re heartbroken,” Inman said.
“We are truly a family and this is hurting all of us — our teachers, our principal, our assistant principal and us,” Casey said, choking up on her tears.
Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said while many of the missing have been found safe, the number changes constantly.
“This has to be a tough time for you,” Morgan said.
“A tough time,” the mayor said.
They are still working to identify the deceased.
“We’ve got strong mountain heritage and so we’re going to recover from this and we’ll be back stronger than ever,” Waters said. “It’s just going to take us a little time.”
There are conflicting reports in the local newspaper that many homeowners said they only knew to evacuate when they saw the actual flames. But National Park and county officials say they did give proper warning before the wildfire began.
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