‘We lost everything’: TSU students and faculty remember the March 3rd tornadoes, as they look to rebuild

Nashville Tornado

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A storm system that hit parts of Nashville shortly after midnight on March 3, 2020, quickly created chaos across Middle Tennessee, causing severe damage to Tennessee State University’s campus.

It sits in the heart of North Nashville. TSU’s agricultural program is known nationally for it’s goat research. The school’s farm took the brunt of the damage.

Across campus, there was damage to signs and building rooftops, downed power lines, uprooted trees, and debris scattered. The University had to suspend power to structures with the most damage, as a safety precaution.

THE STORM

On March 3, 2020, Middle Tennessee saw one of the worst tornadoes since 2011. The storm dropping large baseball sized hail in some areas, widespread damage, hundreds on injuries, and more than 20 fatalities.

Tennessee State University reported 3 of 4 buildings, that were part of the school’s agriculture program, were destroyed by the 7 tornadoes that tore through Middle Tennessee.

Dr. Chandra Reddy, Dean of TSU’s Agriculture Department, remembers like it was yesterday. At the time he was in Washington, D.C. attending a meeting when he got a phone call around 2 o’clock in the morning from someone at the farm. He said watching the approaching storm on television was different from listening to the words, “We lost everything.”

The night the storms hit, Richard Browning, a TSU professor, arrived at the University worried, about the animals being housed at the agriculture farm.

“I was watching the news and heard that Germantown was hit, so I came out right after I saw the news, and I walked back and found that all the buildings were gone,” said Browning. “We actually had one goat that night trapped under some debris that had fallen down. So, we got her out, and we had to wait until sun up to really see the damage, and we realized that all the infrastructure was pretty much gone.”

According to TSU, no injuries were reported, and students were on Spring Break. Dr. Curtis Johnson, TSU’s chief of staff, at the time said “Based on preliminary evaluations, we’re looking in access of $20 million [in damages].”

TSU reported an access of $20 million in damages following the tornado.

“I just heard knocks on the door saying, ‘everyone come outside, everyone come to the hallway. This is not a drill. This is not a drill,'” said Bryce Daniel, a Junior at TSU.

Born and raised in Texas, Daniel said he’s used to strong winds. He was sleeping inside his dorm room, when he and fellow classmates were rushed into the hallway for safety, “Everyone was pretty scared, pretty terrified.”

THE AFTERMATH

State leaders visited Nashville to see the damage first-hand during the aftermath of the tornado. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee visited the Tennessee State University’s agriculture farm on Tuesday, to access the most heavily damaged part of the campus.

“I was hoping it wasn’t as big as it seemed, I know a lot of times people over exaggerate especially if you not used to these types of storms,” explained Daniel.

But Daniel’s hope turned into shock as the sun came up the following morning, “That’s when it became real to me that this was a big tornado.”

TSU’s GEM organization (Pictured left to right: Bryce Daniel, Justin Thompson, Clifford Clayton Jr., Tyrus Banks, Antonio Daniels) volunteering with clean-up efforts at the agriculture farm on TSU’s campus.

Driving down Jefferson street he saw the damage and destruction left in the wake of the tornado. Daniel described debris spread across the street, trash, and parts of buildings covered the ground.

While state and local leaders visited several areas across Middle Tennessee, students at TSU along with the surrounding community went to work. The outpouring of community support throughout Nashville was clear following the tornado.

More than 150 people volunteered their time to help clean up debris left in the aftermath on TSU’s campus.

At the time of the tornado, the University reported three of four buildings were destroyed, and the welfare of the animals is a priority. TSU agriculture officials said in a release, “Two calves were killed and several goats injured.”

Among the volunteers was the TSU organization GEM, standing for Generation of Educated Men. Derrick Sanders, now a Junior at TSU is a member of GEM, and remembers driving to Tennessee from Spring Break.

He said when he saw the destruction on the community he has grown to love in shambles he wad devastated. “Instantly as an organization, we knew that we wanted to serve our community,” said Sanders.

For residents in the North Nashville community, historically, they said the area has been largely forgotten. Normally in the spot light for crime and killings, when the tornado hit the area fear turned into hope.

“You saw every demographic out there working. It was almost like a big family thing,” explained Daniel remembering the number of people who walked around campus to sign up and help with the cleanup process.

THE FUTURE

In the days following the tornado, TSU operated as normal, but the effects of the storm continued to impact the university.

“The state’s insurance system has come together and promised us, that they will rebuild everything that we lost here,” said Dr. Reddy.

Dr. Reddy says the University is thankful to the state and the legislature for stepping in and agreeing to help in the recovery process.

One year ago, Tennessee State University’s agriculture farm was torn apart by a tornado. Now, faculty, staff, and students are looking forward to reconstruction.

It’s been one year since the tornado tore through North Nashville, and some of the debris and damage can still be seen sitting in the trees on TSU’s campus. Moving from a state of sadness to seeing a vision of re-creation. The school said they are now focused on rebuilding.

“Okay, lets move on, lets make plans and visialize what we want it to be,” explained Dr. Reddy.

Unfortunately saying “rebuild” is earlier said than done. According to Dr. Reddy for each building that once stood on the agriculture farm, “user groups” were formed to oversee the rebuilding process. These groups are designed of faculty members who use each building, who debate and discuss how the building will be re-built. He explained, “That’s where we are right now, trying to work with the insurance.”

Dr. Reddy said working with the insurance company has its challenges. He explained the insurance companies goal is to provide enough assistance to rebuild exactly what was lost, while the University is looking to build what was once there, only better.

“It was shock and awe and it was just, it’s like your losing a family member. It’s a death kind of thing for me and for our colleagues that work here,” exclaimed Dr. Reddy as he explains what’s next, “But, quickly we rebuild. We got the charge from Dr. Glover. ‘make this the best it has ever been.'”

Dr. Reddy said the school is hoping for all the buildings to be up and running by December 2021, a goal students like Daniel and Sanders are looking forward to seeing when they return to campus as alumni.


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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