NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – One year has passed since the devastating March 3rd tornado outbreak that ripped through Middle Tennessee, killing 25 people and injuring dozens more.
Little did the community know, the tornado marked only the first of many challenges Nashville would face over the next 12 months.
Although the community has made great strides, the recovery effort for many is far from over. Residents shared the lessons they’ve learned over the last year. Above all, they believe Nashville has the strength and resilience to overcome any obstacles the city might face in the future.
East Nashville Staple Restored
AnneNicholas Weiss owns Weiss Liquors, a beloved East Nashville business that’s been in her family for generations.
The store has survived through several storms and when the March 3rd tornado came knocking at the business door, the building stood strong. However, their sign took a beating.
“So my grandfather had designed that sign. It has been in this location since ‘62 when this building was built. It was hurt in the tornado back in ‘97. It was spun around but we had it fixed,” Weiss said. “So when this last tornado came, last year, it completely fell to the ground. From what we could tell, the tornado kind of hit the sign and spun across the street. I mean it was just gone.”
Even though Weiss found a way re-open the next day, she herself went to help those in need.
“Immediately I knew that we were ok and we needed to go and help our neighbors. And that actually was a great experience for me to have with my family and my nephews and people who were younger to say ‘hey guys, this is what we do.’ We’re here standing, that means we get out and we help,” Weiss said.
After months of work, Weiss Liquor’s sign was restored at the end of November.
“That was really nice for myself and for my family just being able to see it light up Main Street again and knowing that the pathway to Nashville looks something like it used to.”
Weiss said it’s important for people to support local businesses given the events over the last year, however, supporting other people is the most important takeaway.
“Just get out there and have each other’s backs and lift each other up and say ‘we’re going to make it.’ Because that’s what Nashville does.”
The Long Road to Recovery
Kody Bonacci has spent the last year commuting from Clarksville to help restore homes in Nashville decimated by the March 3rd tornado.
“We are slammed. Everybody’s calling in, everyone wants their roofs done. Everybody wants everything fixed. We’re going to be over here on this next block as soon as we’re done with this one. So it’s back after back after back,” Bonacci said. “It’s 12, 13, 14-hour days trying to get this done.
Bonacci said the pandemic has complicated matters further.
“We’re kind of fighting it right now because a lot of people are like okay, let’s get it all done, but then like the homeowners and the people that are renters are like we don’t need people around right now because of COVID.”
Bonacci added that uphill battles between his company, his clients, and insurance companies have led to even more stress. He said there’s also a shortage of skilled labor willing and able to help Nashville rebuild.
“I think it’s going to be five to ten years before it’s all back to normal.”
And although the city may not be fully recovered anytime soon, Bonacci is committed to commuting each day and putting in the hours it takes to get the job done.
“I’ve been down in ruts before and I know what it felt like to get my houses fixed where I couldn’t live in them anymore. I feel extremely grateful just to be able to help people.”
“When are we going to get a break?“
Willis Beard moved to Nashville in 1992 and owns Tennessee Touch mobile car detailing company. As he drives around town to his clients, he sees the damage left behind by the Nashville tornado every day.
“It’s almost kind of a disappointment, really, because you would think after a year, you know, a lot of major things have started to be repaired, but for the most part, there’s people that don’t have things repaired,” Beard said.
He especially worries about those who might not have the financial means to make repairs easily.
“I’ve seen people without things being repaired that you look at it and you say what’s going on? Who’s going to step up and make these repairs?”
While servicing a client in Buena Vista, Beard looked across the street at a community center his child used to visit. The faculty now has missing walls and a collapsed structure.
“My son actually used to be here at a summer camp every year, during the summer for about four or five weeks. And it was a great place for them to come and have something to do in the summertime,” Beard said. “You look at that and think your child used to be in there enjoying themselves and learning things and having activities, to now.”
Nashville has been forced to face many challenges after the tornado, including the pandemic, summer protests, and the Christmas Day downtown bombing.
“It’s kind of like a punch in the gut, you know, just a breathtaking thing for everybody to say, you know, when are we going to get a break?”
Although Nashville’s recovery might take time, Beard holds out hope.
“I believe it’s going to be repaired, just a matter of when. Kind of like the pandemic, when is it going to be over? But when are things going to be repaired? When are things going to come to a point where we can say ‘we’re back to normal?’”
A ‘Catastrophic’ Risk
Miriam Kraatz and Quincy Ellison share a house in East Nashville. Nothing could have prepared them for the damage brought by the March 3rd tornado they’re still dealing with today.
Ellison remembers watching the storm approach. He knew getting to a safe place was a life or death decision.
“The lightning, or the thunder sounded like springs, like a boing oing oing sound. It was just weird,” Ellison said. “And then five minutes later, we saw this huge cloud, dusting, just come towards us and were just like run.”
But getting to safety wasn’t Kraatz’s first reaction. Instead, she crawled on her hands and knees, searching for her four-legged family member.
“I was freaked out about my cat,” Kraatz said. “The most salient memory is that the air was stinging. Because all of the debris, the sand, whatever’s in it, and part of our roof was lifted off. So all of that blew into the house.”
Ellison said getting to safety was the first thing on his mind. He was concerned when Kraatz didn’t follow his lead.
“And Miriam was chasing after the cat. I’m screaming ‘Miriam!’ And Miriam is crawling on the ground, I guess,” Ellison said. “Couldn’t see her because trees are like cracking in half, like wood is cracking.”
Eventually, Kraatz gave up looking for the cat and knew she had to look out for herself. She kept crawling until she reached Ellison, who was in a closet centrally located in the house.
“I had never been through anything like that,” Ellison said. “But she found my ankles and I found her at my feet and everything was okay. Kind of, the house was completely destroyed, but we’re still here, so yeah.”
The two are still battling insurance and have not yet been able to start repairs on their home. They currently live in temporary housing.
Luckily, their furry friend survived. Little did Kraatz know, the cat had taken shelter himself.
“My cat went under the couch and he was fine, fortunately. He got his ear clipped, but he was fine,” Kraatz said.
However, the cat may never know how truly loved he is and the risk his owner took to make sure he would be okay.
Germantown Residents Unite
Mandy Funderburk organizes the Germantown Neighborhood Cleanup group on Facebook. She had no idea the mission her social media page would serve following the March 3rd tornado.
Funderburk said early that morning, she and her husband woke up to her dog shaking. The two thought it was a thunderstorm until checking Twitter. That’s when they both took shelter, and they’re thankful they did.
“The power went out, came through, and we didn’t hear too much and it all just happened so fast,” Funderburk said. “But we maybe had five minutes warning or so.”
Despite not having power, the two returned to bed. They only got a glimpse of what happened before falling asleep.
“But we were kind of looking at our phones to see like was this really a tornado? What happened?” Funderburk said. “And that’s when all of the pictures of the damage started coming in just right down the street.”
Right down the street was also the spot Natalie Jackson had just bought a house and was waiting to move in. She saw the storms from West Nashville.
“I had seen on the news that the tornado had gone right past it,” Jackson said. “And so immediately I came over to check on it. And I couldn’t even access the street. All the powerlines were down.”
Both Funderburk and Jackson woke up the next morning with a mission.
“It was early Tuesday morning, we got a little bit of sleep, we got up and then we put the call out,” Funderburk said.
After Jackson saw her house withstood the storm, she wanted to help her new neighbors. She assisted with efforts led by Hands On Nashville.
“[We] kind of set up times in different areas for people to meet up and you bring a shovel and anything you really have, honestly you need something because everything was quite heavy,” Jackson said. “It was amazing. It was very uplifting. It was almost too many people, honestly. Some people had to take a step back. It was extremely rewarding to see everybody from everywhere just come on out.”
Meanwhile, Funderburk’s Facebook page was flooded with support from people not only from Germantown but also from other counties.
“Just for our neighborhood cleanup group on Facebook, we got I think it was 174 members over the span of 12 days,” Funderburk said.
“I think the thing that was the most surprising was the amount of insulation that was everywhere. Like pieces of rooves, just everywhere,” Funderburk said. “But then when we got to [Madison] Street, that was just like the direct path. And that’s when it was like, I really realized how bad it was and that was emotional when I got there.”
As recovery efforts persist, both look back on March 3rd with heavy hearts.
“I still feel for my neighbors,” Jackson said. “Particularly being displaced during the pandemic and having nowhere to go. It’s just devastating to think about.”
Funderburk was taken aback by the power social media played that day. As things slowed down and volunteers returned home, she was left with a feeling of hope.
“I think we live in a time where maybe people don’t trust each other as much as they should. But when it comes down to it, everybody is really supportive and caring and I think we need to give each other more credit because everybody’s out there to help.”
A Wife’s Life Saving Advice
Britt DePriest remembered not taking weather warnings too seriously before the March 3rd tornado.
“I had kind of gotten in the habit of ignoring the sirens. My wife does not. So she that night says we have to go into our safe area,” DePriest said. “And, within just a few seconds it became very apparent she was right. I mean the noise and all of that was very different from most storms.”
DePriest is a board member of the Historic Germantown Neighborhood Association. For him, the damage that day was personal.
“It was kind of surreal, actually. You walk out the door and you see parts of houses laying over in the street. You see your neighbor’s roof two or three doors down.”
Although DePriest remembers the storm only lasting a few moments, the destruction would last much longer.
“You know, it seems like it happened about three years ago. With the tornado happening right at the very beginning of the whole COVID ordeal, it just seems like an awful long time ago.”
He said shipping headaches caused by the tornado also delayed materials needed to repair homes. His family spent months with tarps over their home while they waited for windows to arrive.
One of Nashville’s oldest churches is settled right in the heart of Germantown. In fact, clergy members at the Church of the Assumption say the parish attracted churchgoers to move to the neighborhood and build homes back in the 1800s. Now the church requires millions of dollars worth of repairs.
“The Church of the Assumption is one of the oldest churches in the neighborhood and it’s still pretty heavily damaged. For a while, they didn’t know if they were going to be able to save that or not,” DePriest said. “Now it looks like they are going to be able to save it, but it’s going to be a long time getting them back in operation.”
DePriest said hundreds of residents were displaced from large apartment buildings in the neighborhood. Some have just recently able to moving back in.
“The road to recovery for the neighborhood, it’s been mostly about getting people back in their homes. I think for the most part, that’s happened at this point,” DePriest said. “Some of our businesses are still shut down. But we’re slowly but surely returning to life pre-tornado.”
Love Thy Neighbor
As a state representative and a pastor, Harold Love Jr. is used to taking on many roles. Things were no different the morning of the March 3rd tornado.
As soon as the storm subsided, Rep. Love headed to his church, Lee Chapel AME, to set up a staging area.
“The drive from my house here, normally, is about five minutes because we live in North Nashville. But that morning took us several hours to get here because we had to go around, again, downed power lines, we had to go around downed trees,” Rep. Love said.
The church had to use power from a generator while the building turned into a command center for disaster relief.
“We were able to use our fellowship hall as a staging ground for receiving donations. Our driveway was used to drop off donations and our parking lot was used for people who were coming to volunteer to park their car,” Rep. Love said. “We even had the Tennessee Titans come out, the football team players, helping people move furniture out the houses and help the people, again, move materials out to cut down trees.”
For Love, opening the church right away was about more than just providing resources to neighbors.
”The faith community has always been a source of hope for people. And so if the church was open, it would provide hope for people,” Rep. Love said. “If the church was there and receiving donations, I believe it was going to be a place where folks can then find some more resilience and some opportunities to give back.”
In moments without shelter, food, and power, Love said the community’s faith was abundant along with their willingness to serve.
“The lesson I think is that most folks should take away is that even in moments of despair, we can come together, we can help each other out.”
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.