Local, state and federal officials confirmed that the order to evacuate Gatlinburg amid Monday night’s deadly firestorm was not sent to mobile devices in the area.
The reason for the failure, however, remains unclear.
John Mathews, director of the Sevier County Emergency Management Agency, said at a news conference Friday morning it was his understanding that an evacuation alert had been sent to mobile devices.
“If people did not receive the message we sent out, of course we are unsatisfied with it,” Mathews said in response to pointed questions.
The citywide evacuation was broadcast only on area TV and radio. And when it came — at 9:04 p.m. according to Tennessee Emergency Management Agency records – it was several hours after the flames had swept into Gatlinburg.
Mathews said he had relayed to TEMA Gatlinburg city officials’ decision to evacuate as flames began to overrun the tourism mecca. TEMA spokesman Dean Flener previously said records show the Sevier County EMA had asked the National Weather Service office in Morristown to announce the evacuation.
“I did not call National Weather Service — I called TEMA,” Mathews told the News Sentinel on Friday.
And as far as Matthews understood, he said, TEMA fulfilled the request.
A TEMA representative was among 60-some officials inside a local command post at the Gatlinburg Fire Department the night of the firestorm. Given the stress created by the fast-moving flames, though, Mathews admitted he doesn’t remember specifically to whom or how he communicated the request.
None of the evacuees interviewed by the News Sentinel as of Friday said they had received a text alert announcing the evacuation, although some said they were notified by police officers who went door to door.
Jeff Carter, a maintenance worker at Brookside Resort and Event Center, said he didn’t receive any notification. He went to sleep at 7 p.m. Monday, and woke at midnight to flames erupting near his apartment.
“No text alerts, not anything,” he said. “And you get Amber alerts on the phone.”