NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Famed country star and Tennessee native Dolly Parton hosted a three-hour televised telethon Tuesday night to raise money for the victims of the devastating wildfires in East Tennessee.
Smoky Mountains Rise: A Benefit for the My People Fund is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the people who lost their homes in Sevier County in late November.
While the televised portion ended at 10 p.m. Central, the call center will be open until 2 a.m. Call either 1-866-CARE MORE (1-866-227-3667) or 1-800-942-9026 to donate now.
Parton said the final amount raised will not be released until after the telethon re-airs on the West Coast, but did say it was in the millions. She set a goal of $13 million at the beginning of the night.
Two wildfires spread rapidly due to high winds overnight on Nov. 28, killing 14 people and destroyed over 2,400 homes and businesses. At least 1,300 people were displaced.PHOTOS: Wildfires in East Tennessee
Parton’s My People Fund will give all of those people $1,000 per month for six months to help get them back on their feet.
“My home in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee is some place special,” said. “Wildfires have affected many of the people—my people—who live in those beautiful mountains. We want to provide a hand up to those families who have lost everything in the fires. I know it has been a trying time for my people and this assistance will help get them back on their feet.”
Dozens of country greats helped during the televised special Tuesday, either by performing on stage or answering the phones as calls poured in.
The Academy of Country Music and Taylor Swift each donated $100,000. Paul Simon donated $100,000 as well. Belmont University donated $155,000 while the Tennessee Titans gave $144,270.
Also on Tuesday, officials estimated the damage to Sevier County amounts to over $500 million. Both the county mayor and mayor of Gatilnburg are begging people to keep the tourism alive and continue to visit the Smoky Mountains, the most visited national park in the entire United States.
“The magic of Gatlinburg hasn’t left. It’s still there,” said Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner. “The No. 1 thing you can do for us is come visit and come visit soon. That is so important to us.”
News 2’s Jessica Jaglois was in Gatlinburg during the telethon Tuesday and spoke with people at Calhoun’s, which is located downtown. While downtown Gatlinburg was spared, Calhoun’s sat empty–an unusual sight.
“Normally we’re always busy, but tonight we’re just waiting to close,” said employee Sarah Moroz. She joined her fellow colleagues and customers at the bar to watch Parton’s telethon.
“I think it’s a great thing because we can get back on our feet easier and it rebuilds more people,” she told News 2.
“I lost my house,” said customer Phillip Klinch. “It could help out. It’s just a great thing that she’s doing.”
Tourist Melody Vasquez came to Gatlinburg with her young sons even though she thought about cancelling.
“We weren’t sure how bad the smoke would be or what was left of the town,” she told News 2. “We looked online and saw the town was still in tact and they were encouraging visitors to come and we thought Gatlinburg needed the money more than any place else.”