‘Counting our blessings’: Cookeville family starting new chapter after tornado

Nashville Tornado

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – In the early morning hours of March 3rd, The McWilliams family home came crashing down on top of them. One year later, Ted and Terri McWilliams, both staff members at Tennessee Tech University, are getting ready to move into a brand new home with their three kids.

It was a race against the unimaginable.

“My phone went off, and I was in bed with my daughter Lily,” Terri said. “Usually, Ted is the weather guy, so I usually depend on him to say ‘this is bad’ so I thought, ‘what do I do?’ he wasn’t home.” Ted was on a work trip in Chattanooga.

She only had seconds to act. “I just really felt like the Lord just said ‘go get the kids and go it’s urgent we have to get to safety.'”

For their middle son, it was a close call. “Once he came out of the hallway, I went down the stairs and he ran back to get a blanket. When he was running down the hallway, the walls were falling and the roof was gone,” said Terri. Thankfully, the whole family made it into the basement. It was their only chance of survival.

Ted received a phone call after his brother helped his family get out of the rubble.

“Everything was piled up in the back,” Ted said. “Cars were turned over, the shed and barn was gone. It was surreal.”

The very next day, their family, church group, and fellow staff at Tennessee Tech were there to help.

“I’m kind of like, ‘no you’re good’ and she’s like ‘you’re gonna let people help us right now,’ and I agreed,” said Ted.

That same support system still checks in as they prepare to start their next chapter on the same property on Clemmons Road.

“I really struggled with that decision,” Terri said. “Just out of a lot of fear and the memories of that night with another storm, what if another storm comes and we’ve dealt with that it’s post traumatic stress all year.”

Once the family talked it over, they decided their story on Clemmons Road wasn’t finished. They had more memories to create. The courage to rebuild with no guarantees that another night like March 3rd won’t happen again.

“Sometimes, I’ll just stop and be like, ‘this just happened here?’ I’m more focused on moving forward. You can’t change the past or anything. It may have been different if I have been here or something, but we’ve got a task ahead of us let’s keep on going with it,” said Ted.

The family hopes to be finished with construction on their new home by mid-April.


See how hope has overcome heartbreak across the area. News 2 brings you special reports Tennessee Stronger: A Year of Recovery all day Wednesday in every newscast and on WKRN.com.

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