Loss and Survival in the Tennessee Tornadoes

I’ve lived 59 of my 60 years on this earth in Middle Tennessee, so I’ve been through my fair share of tornadoes.  I’ve heard the frightening “freight train” sound of a tornado going over my house (and it really does sound just like a freight train).  Tuesday’s early morning tornado (or tornadoes?) was not my first and certainly won’t be my last.  But I can say with all honesty that this one was was more traumatic.  The devastation from this one hit closer to home.  My city was hit hard and entire neighborhoods were obliterated just a stone’s throw from my home.   Usually, we get fair warning, but not with this big monster of a funnel.  I didn’t get warned until it had already gone through downtown Nashville and was heading my way (I live in a small Nashville suburb).  This one hit at 1 am, when most “normal” people are sleeping.  I’m a night owl and in all honesty, I’m very grateful for that right now.  I’m usually still awake at that hour and am very thankful I was still awake that night.

Hubby had gone to bed and I was getting ready to retire myself.  I was in the bathroom washing my face when my cell phone sounded an alarm.  My first honest to God thought was not for the weather, but was, “Oh no, not ANOTHER Amber Alert?!”  Yes, I thought  another innocent child had gone missing.  But it was a tornado warning saying a tornado was in the area and to take cover now.  I flipped on the TV and it had reportedly hit the downtown Nashville area, gone just north of the Titans stadium and had hit East Nashville.  It had traveled East, and was in Donelson, my hometown and where my in-laws live, and was supposedly heading my way.  I felt like I was in the twilight zone as I had heard nothing about possible tornadoes.

Never again will I so flippantly regard a tornado warning. 

My normally jaunty female meteorologist had a whole new demeanor about her that I didn’t recognize.  Her voice was an octave deeper and she was booming some serious instructions.  I remember her saying the Mt. Juliet area needed to take cover now, that this was as bad as it gets, and to please take this seriously and get to a safe place.  Still in denial, I stepped out on the deck and there was light rain but nothing else.  No wind, no hail, nothing.  And then the tornado alarm sounded.  It was loud and terrifying.  It was this alarm which finally jarred me into reality and sprung me into action.  I ran to the back bedroom where I awoke my slumbering husband, telling him we needed to get to the basement NOW, that they were saying this was a “big one.”  A massive and wide tornado.  Hubby moaned and begrudgingly got up (can you tell we’re used to getting a few false alarms in this area?) while I ran around the house trying to gather my two cats.  Our blonde tabby, Nugget, loves tornado warnings as he gets to explore the basement (and nothing makes him happier), while our gray tabby, Dakota, would just as soon be decapitated than go one step down into that basement.  I thought for sure I would be blown away that night as I chased my sweet gray boy all over the house, trying to retrieve him from under beds.

I opened the garage door a few times to check to see what it was doing (probably not the smartest thing to do).  The third time I opened it, with hubby by my side,  the wind hurled rain inside on us and as the lightning strikes lit up the backyard, we could see unidentified swirling objects in the air (which we learned later was pink and yellow insulation).  We immediately tried to close the door to run back to a safer spot in the basement but then the garage door decided it didn’t want to close.  It finally did and we ran to the deepest corner of the basement, feeling grateful we had not both been sucked out alive.  Our lights flickered a few times but we never lost power.

It was over before we knew it.  We had survived again.  Other people weren’t so lucky.  I stayed up most of that night watching the TV coverage of the damage which was indescribable.  I could hardly believe what I was seeing.  Places I frequented, schools that I loved, and familiar buildings were destroyed or just gone.  I felt like someone had given me a shot of adrenaline.  Hubby went back to bed. How he slept, I’ll never know.  At daylight, I went out and picked up debris from the yard.  There was insulation hanging from trees and up on our roof and on top of all our neighbor’s houses as well.  There were papers from no telling where, a large piece of plastic, and a few shingles.  Our two sons, who live in a different state, both called within minutes of each other when they awoke to the news.

I had a doctor’s appointment at 10 am in downtown Nashville, but cancelled it when I heard the mayor of Nashville on TV telling people to stay home unless you had an emergency and absolutely needed to be out.  There was nothing else on TV except tornado coverage on Tuesday.  Power lines and trees were down all over, there were numerous natural gas leaks, and debris from decimated houses and buildings was everywhere, causing roads to be impassable.  Schools were demolished.  Entire neighborhoods were destroyed.  50,000 people in Nashville alone were without power.  It looked more like bombs had gone off all around us.  Here is an incredible drone video of Nashville (the time mark for a school and neighborhood close to where I live starts at minute 5:27).

I have to admit something.  I have never, ever, until now, understood the term “survivor’s guilt.”  I have heard that term over the years used by people who have survived natural disasters, mass shootings, and even suicide.  I always thought to myself that I just didn’t get it or understand those feelings.  I quietly wondered why these survivors just couldn’t be thankful for the fact that they had survived.  Why the guilt?  I so totally get it now.  Survivor’s guilt is real.  I’ve seen familiar parts of my hometown blown away.  I’ve seen a church I passed by frequently decimated.  I came away with an unscathed home and with debris in my yard that took all of 30 minutes to pick up.  Our Internet has come and gone, but that’s not all that unusual for us.  Our power stayed on.  There weren’t even any limbs down in our yard.  And so I felt terrible guilt over how fortunate I was.  I’ve heard more horror stories in these past few days than I care to recount.  I finally had to quit watching the constant replays of the tornado on TV just as I had to quit watching on 9/11 when they kept replaying the airplanes flying into the twin towers.  It’s caused an indescribable anxiety.  I’ve only managed to sleep 1-2 hours a night since the tornado and after talking to others, I know I’m not alone.  I know the only way to combat that anxiety is to help others who need my help.  And that’s just what I plan to do.

I’m hearing that experts still aren’t sure how many tornadoes there were.  They do know that the one that struck my Nashville suburb was on the ground for over 50 minutes and strengthened to an EF3 in the Donelson and Mt. Juliet areas.  One report said for 60 minutes.  I heard that most tornadoes will bounce up and down –  intermittently lifting up and touching back down, but this one didn’t do that.  It stayed on the ground the entire 50+ minutes, through four counties, causing widespread destruction.  I also heard that Tennessee is the #1 state for nighttime tornadoes and that tornadoes that hit at night often cause more destruction.  I didn’t know those things.

There has been loss of life and there is much trauma, grieving and mourning here.   It’s a lot for any human to process.  But for all the tragic stories, there are just as many inspirational stories of heroism and courage.   Stories where love shines through.  Nashville and Tennessee will be just fine.  Volunteers have come out in droves.  It’s heartwarming to see neighbors, friends and complete strangers coming from near and far.  We are feeling the love pouring in to us and most of all, the hope.  And that’s important.

Please pray for Tennessee.



About Gail

I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, veterinarian, and wanna be writer. I love nature and animals of all kinds, music, cooking, and spending time with my family.
This entry was posted in Grief, Nature, Tragedy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Loss and Survival in the Tennessee Tornadoes

  1. Pingback: Loss and Survival in the Tennessee Tornadoes — Moonlight Reflections – Relax..

  2. Relax... says:

    So incredibly thankful you’re okay. ❤ We'll keep on praying.

  3. Wow Gail …so thankful to God that you and your husband and your pets are still alive and well. Your honesty about the “survivor’s guilt” will help many others who are working through their emotions right now. Being a “night owl” just might be a bigger gift than you ever though, huh! I’m sharing this on our FB group page “Meet Me in the Middle.” We need to hear the stories of those still in the middle of this tragedy.

  4. I’m SOO glad you and your family are ok! I know the fear that you felt and it is awful. Tornado season is coming soon here. I think having a tornado in the middle of the night has to be the absolute worst but thankfully you were awake and aware! I haven’t ever felt guilty about surviving but I do feel empathy for those that have been hit. Seeing that devastation is heart breaking. It could just as easily have been us and still might be one day. I pray not, but it’s a real possibility. We are all insignificant to a tornado.

    • Gail says:

      I guess officially our tornado season is March through May with April being the peak. But in reality, they can happen any time of the year, day or night as we have seen. It’s odd because the day before this one hit, I remember thinking for a nanosecond, Ugh, it’s March and it’s tornado season, and then BAM, this happened. Yes, I agree, we are all insignificant in a tornado.

  5. kimwilbanks says:

    That must have been terrifying. I’m thankful that you were awake and are ok. The visual of you trying to wrangle your cats though.

    • Gail says:

      Looking back, I did some pretty stupid things that night. We do get so many false alarms around here and so I was in denial, even with the meteorologist telling us to take this seriously! Well, I learned my lesson and NEVER AGAIN will I blow off warnings like that!

      • kimwilbanks says:

        We kind of have a similar situation with hurricanes. I’ve lived in Florida all my life and I’ve never had to evacuate for one. A couple of years ago, one was heading toward us but we did not evacuate (you have to make the decision to leave at the very least 5 days in advance or you will be stuck in traffic). The last one we had, I was really scared. The eye went almost over our house. My brother in Niceville was texting us that a possible tornado was very close to our neighborhood and to take cover. I told my husband, next time I’m going to Nashville!

      • Gail says:

        I think I remember reading about that hurricane story on your blog! (I’ve read your entire blog). That would be scary but evacuating would be very difficult! I know there are people here who lost their entire homes but they are camping out next to them to protect them from looters.

      • kimwilbanks says:

        Man, that’s bad about looters! Yes, evacuating from a hurricane is tricky – it can be heading toward you and literally change at the last minute or it could be heading to a completely different part of the state and change it’s path. It you don’t leave by a certain point, a 3 hour drive to the state line turns into 7 or 8 hours and there are basically 2 roads north. There is a point where you just have to stay.

      • Gail says:

        Wow! They often show the long lines of people evacuating for hurricanes on our news stations here. Just bumper to bumper gridlocked traffic!

  6. heatherjo says:

    I am so sorry you went through this. I can’t imagine how terrifying that must have been. I’m from Florida so I’ve dealt with many bad Hurricanes but never a tornado! Thank Jehovah God you and your family are safe. My prayers go out to those that lost loved ones and valuable possessions.

  7. mumsthewordblog1 says:

    Wow, living in Melbourne, Australia, thankfully we don’t get these tornadoes. (I guess we have bush fires instead) Very glad to hear you and your husband came through it ok.

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