Remembering Hurricane Elvis - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Remembering Hurricane Elvis

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

We are currently in the summer weather pattern where violent pop up storms can wreak havoc by causing power outages and treacherous road conditions.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the most horrific storm to ever ravage Memphis and Shelby County. It began the morning of July 22, 2003, when unpredicted straight line winds cut a wide swath of devastation like we'd never witnessed before.
The aftermath of "Hurricane Elvis" was just as memorable.

In just a matter of seconds a legendary Memphis myth was unmasked. For early on the steamy morning of July 22, 2003, Mother Nature decided to call our bluff when it came to feeling a false sense of immunity to a monstrous storm. Without the fanfare of a single tornado emergency siren going off, the 80 mph straight line winds of "Hurricane Elvis" sent Memphis and Shelby County rockin' n' rollin'.

"Just from having worked here 25 years looking at the winds, when I was driving in I knew there'd be trouble," said MLGW executive Lee Smart in 2003.

Within hours the degree of the devastation from Germantown to downtown, from Millington to north Mississippi was frightening. Winds blowing down trees and more than 1,300 power poles splintered, split, or knocked down, 339,000 MLGW customers were initially without power, and 75 percent of the electrical infrastructure in Memphis was damaged or destroyed.

"MLGW had a huge footprint in that response and they had a lot of damage in that event," said Shelby County Office of Preparedness Executive Director Bob Nations.

It appeared no neighborhood had managed to remain unscathed. The old and beautiful trees which had for decades majestically towered over the streets and elegant homes of Midtown and Chickasaw Gardens were transformed into fallen impregnable barricades trapping families in  cocoons of twisted limbs. The shock and awe of what happened soon gave way to the dark fears of what was to come.

"It was like the tree was just groaning," a Chickasaw Gardens resident said. "It's going arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!"

"We're completely blocked in. There's three different ways we can go here and all of them are blocked," said another Chickasaw Gardens resident.

"I shook for an hour afterwards," said a Midtown resident. "You know you just can't even get control of yourself."

"We can't get out to go get food," said another Chickasaw Gardens resident. "We can't get out to do anything. We don't have any power. We can't get to work."

But, what work? More than 300 commercial businesses had been damaged or destroyed. Historic Beale Street was forced to shut down for more than a week after overhanging cranes at the future FedExForum site were bent and left ominously swaying.

Broken windows from one story buildings to high-rises dotted the downtown landscape.

"It was a blessing that so many people had not yet left their homes," said a Downtown Memphis businessman in 2003. "As you see the destruction around you, had people been in those offices a lot of people would have been hurt."

"I think it's a lot worse than people realize," said a Bartlett resident. "This likens to the ice storm. But, it might can get worse because it's going to get hot tomorrow and I think it's a lot harder to stay cooler than it is to stay warmer."

After all it was July wasn't it? Steadily rising from a high of 82 degrees, minutes before the storm hit, five days later temperatures hit the 90s, topping out at 94. The combination of no power, isolation, frustration and sultry temps produced a hell on earth environment.
"For these people sitting on these steps here this is their Afghanistan, this is Liberia, this is Iraq all rolled into one," said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton in 2003.

It would take weeks and months before the true toll of the worst storm in Memphis history was tallied. There were seven deaths, including a 2-year-old who died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty indoor generator. There was also the massive cleanup costs in excess of $14 million for MLGWalone.

But, no price could be put on the one positive result that came after "Hurricane Elvis" had finally made his exit.

"There's a lot to be said about neighbor helping neighbor, because you begin to measure the resiliency of a community," Nations said.
For battered, but not bowed Memphians and effected communities, that happily proved to be no myth.

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