Campers returning to Elkmont camping sites after evacuation

GSMNP (WVLT) -- The National Park Service has allowed the majority of campers at Elkmont Campground to return to their sites in Great Smoky Mountains after evacuations early Thursday morning. Only a few remain closed because they are still flooded as of Thursday evening.

Many roads are back open, but Wear Cove Gap Road will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

NPS also said that Little River Road, from Metcalf Bottoms to Townsend, will remain closed.

Find the National Park's full list of road closures here.

Rangers told WVLT News 196 campsites in the Elkmont Campground were evacuated due to flash flooding. It was a scary situation for campers when the brdige between camp lots was nearly submerged by flood water.

A woman from Georgia told WVLT News that the moment she heard lightning and saw water coming towards her tent, she got her grandchildren out of harms way. "I looked out and saw how the waves were really going and rolling you know and we were supposed to stay another night but I said we are gonna leave today and when I come out of my tent bed, I came to where my daughter was and said we need to get everybody out now," Teresa Wilkerson said.

Campers at Elkmont were told to leave their campsites and head to the Sugarlands Visitor Center at 1420 Fighting Creek Gap Road in Gatlinburg.

Park officials started evacuating visitors at 9 a.m. Of the 220 campsites at Elkmont Campground, 196 campsites were reserved Wednesday night along with three group campsites.

Tom Martin from Wisconsin was camping in the area when evacuations started. He said, "The main question was what do we bring, do we just go out and we come back in a short period of time or is it we need to take everything now because we may not be able to get in. So that was the first initial thought that we had."

Overnight, park crews said they received heavy rain across the Smokies, including 2.54 inches of rain at Clingmans Dome. A GSMNP representative said Little River rose six feet above the normal level at the Townsend Wye.

Elkmont sits at an elevation of 2,150 feet with the Little River running through the campground. The park said they are continuing to monitor flood waters in the area.Elkmont is the largest and busiest camping site in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.