Carole Cooper loves spending time in the Great Smoky Mountains. She also has a healthy respect for summer storms and knows how severe they can be. But even Carole was not prepared for that day in July 2012.
She was showing some friends her favorite campground in the park when the weather changed in an instant.
A cluster of fast-moving thunderstorms blew through the park, bringing wind gusts of more than 70 miles per hour, downing hundreds of trees and power lines, upturning tents and campers and leaving behind a scene of utter devastation.
Once the storms passed, all Carole and her friends could hear were tree limbs snapping and people screaming for help.
They came upon several members of one family who had been in a swimming hole when a tree fell on them. “The father, who we later found had a broken vertebra, a collapsed lung and other serious injuries, was desperately looking for his 7-year-old daughter,” Carole says. “He found her in the water, unconscious. The girl’s mother, who had two broken arms and broken ribs, dragged her to shore and started to perform CPR on her. That’s when I ran back and got my Tahoe to see if I could help.”
The little girl’s grandfather was carrying the girl from the campsite when Carole returned and, with help from Carole and the others, gently lifted her into the truck.
“But the roads were all blocked by fallen trees,” Carole says. “There was no way to get out of there and there was no cell phone service.”
That’s when she pushed the red Emergency button on her rearview mirror.
“And lo and behold, I could not believe it when I heard the OnStar Advisor’s voice,” she says. "OnStar* was my dispatch to the outside world.”
Other campers began bringing the injured to Carole’s Tahoe as they waited for help to arrive.
But first responders couldn’t get into the campground. The roads were completely blocked by fallen trees. They had to walk in with their equipment.
“Because of all the road debris, it took some time for them to arrive, but when they got here, they were fabulous,” Carole says. “They used my OnStar connection the whole time to stay in touch with other emergency personnel since no other communication was available. OnStar was our lifeline, and my Tahoe became a trauma center.”
When enough trees were cleared, rescue workers were able to drive Carole’s Tahoe far enough out of the park to get the injured to safety.
“The fortunate thing was that we got the help we needed,” Carole says. “OnStar made all the difference. It did save lives.”