Tennessee

The Latest: Cell towers down; no fire evacuation text alert

The Latest on the East Tennessee wildfires (all times local):

1 p.m.

Officials say a text message warning residents to evacuate amid deadly wildfires wasn't sent because cell towers went out of service before agency leaders had a chance to agree on the message's wording.

In a news conference Tuesday, Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said that on Nov. 28 at 8:30 p.m. John Mathews of the Sevier County Emergency Management Agency tried to call the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to discuss sending the text. Miller said that's about when two cell towers went down.

Miller said TEMA tried to reconnect to get approval of the language of the alert, but couldn't, and didn't send the message because the wording wasn't approved.

Miller said an inappropriate message could have evacuated people toward the fire, instead of away from it.

Officials went door-to-door to evacuate people, used social media and news releases, and sounded a downtown siren with a spoken message.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters says there will be a comprehensive evaluation of the alert system, among other issues.

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10 a.m.

Local officials estimate that deadly wildfires in East Tennessee have caused more than $500 million in damage.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters released the estimate Tuesday for the wildfires in the Gatlinburg area that killed 14 people.

Officials say 2,460 structures were destroyed or damaged, including more than 2,100 homes and almost 60 businesses destroyed.

Also on Tuesday, Deputy Superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park Clay Jordan said officials believe there was no way to control the fire in the park before extreme winds brought it into the Gatlinburg area Nov. 28.

Jordan also said there was no number of firefighters or fire trucks that could have stopped the spread of the fires in those wind conditions, which reached gusts about 87 miles per hour.