The Nashville Tornado-First Hand (a copy of a letter sent out to concerned friends and family)
Thanks to all who have written to me, concerned about my family's well-being. I can tell you that God was very gracious to Nashville yesterday. By the first reports I heard this morning, well over 300 homes were destroyed, over $100 million worth of damage was done, downtown looked more like Beirut than Music City, and still no lives were lost. Thank you God. We can plant more trees and rebuild the houses.
Mary and the kids spent a very tense and anxious day, with the first thunder awaking us at 5:45 AM. The kids all came running to our bed and Mary made me get up and check the TV. From that moment on, Mary and the children spent the day glued to the TV watching for tornado warnings, except for 11 times when they went down into the basement for protection. The tornado warnings for Davidson county were non-stop. One would almost end and the National Weather Service would extend it. Sometimes as many as a dozen counties would have simultaneous tornado warnings. None of the local stations showed any regular programming all day long, only continuous weather updates. They didn't even break away for commercials (for 17 hours mind you-now that's serious). One of the local stations (Channel 5) lost power right as the storm reached downtown (around 3:40 pm) and was unable to get back on the air until almost 10 pm. Then, they resumed with the anchors standing in front of a remote truck. They still had no power at the station.
I had a meeting on Music Row at 11:00 AM and another downtown at the Arena at 1:00 PM. When I went downtown, the sky was still stormy but not dangerously so, or so I thought. When my meeting was over at 3:30, I headed out the front door of the Arena (at 5th and Broad) and straight to my car, about two blocks away (just 10 minutes before the tornado arrived.) By the time I got to the car and made it over to 7th Ave, I noticed that the sky to the north was VERY dark. I drove on and made it to 13th, when I noticed that the clouds were rushing down out of the sky-not whole clouds, but just pointy triangular fingers of clouds. But there was no rotation and I had never seen a tornado before, so I didn't realize yet how serious this was. That all changed within a minute.
The sky was growing darker and I had decided to hurry home. I was sitting at a red light at the head of Music Row (17th and Demonbreun), watching for the light to change. By this time the wind had picked up drastically and I realized that I wouldn't make it the 2 miles back to my house. There were leaves and twigs flying everywhere across the streets. As I sat there watching the light, the traffic signal hanging from the pole exploded. It didn't just fall, it actually exploded. The yellow fixture disintegrated into about 10 pieces and the bulbs and colored filters and rings were blowing across the street toward my car. Now I knew I could be in serious trouble. I took off as soon as the light changed and headed down 17th, but I had only gone about 200 feet when I heard what sounded like someone shooting a shotgun through the rear window of my car. As I looked over my shoulder to see what happened, I noticed a small, thin S-shaped cloud, between the two buildings to my right. I saw that the rear, quarter-window on the passenger side was shattered with a hole the size of a football in it. (Several people have asked me if I was hit by the glass, and I told them no. But the morning after, as I was getting into my car, I noticed five pieces of glass in the driver's seat and more under my feet and scattered throughout the car.) I drove as fast as possible to Quad Studios (18th and Grand) and ran inside, telling the studio manager that I needed to borrow his basement. When I got down there, there were about 15 people huddled together already down there. About half of them were musician friends of mine (John Willis, Steve Brewster, Jackie Street, Gary Primm, and others--I mention names because some of you may know them). We stayed down there for a few minutes and then headed up to take a look outside. The picnic-table umbrella from the lounge in the front of the building had blown over the building and into the parking lot of the apartment building behind the studio. Other than that, there was no apparent damage.
I hopped into my car, noting that the hole in the rear window was made by a piece of a tree limb, dead wood, no bigger than 2" around by 14" long, weighing less than a pound. It must have been travelling at an enormous rate of speed to shatter the glass. Even throwing it with all my strength I don't think I could punture the glass with it. As I got closer to home, I notice more and more debris on the streets. They were covered with leaves almost like a carpet. I was very relieved to find that the roof was still on, the trees were still standing, and that the kids and Mary were all OK. They had heard a loud buzzing while they were in the basement. "Like a giant swarm of bees," Mary said. On TV, they were already telling of the damage in downtown, with windows blown out of the skyscrapers, and several old buildings had completely lost their fronts-now just piles of brick laying on the sidewalks and covering cars. Three of the four cranes they were using to build the stadium on the other side of the river were now just scrap metal. At the Parthenon, which is walking distance from our house (maybe 1/2 a mile), many 100 year old trees were completely uprooted, one landing on a student that had to be extricated with chain saws. All in all, it was a very trying day. It was 7:30 PM before we finally had the tornado warnings lifted, and the storm coverage on TV didn't end until after midnight.
On Friday, Nashville looked and sounded like a war zone. It was a clear and sunny day, in stark contrast to Thursday. The police were everywhere, at most major intersections, many which had no lights. The sounds of ambulances and chain saws were continuous. There were helicopters and light planes flying low over the city, some containing the Mayor, the Governor, or the Vice President.
The boys and I went to Mike Sturm's house (my wife's brother), and surveyed the damage there. Mike had been in his truck, pulling away from his house, when he spotted the tornado. He pulled back in the driveway, jumped out of the truck (not even taking the time to turn off the engine), and ran into his house. He ran downstairs and grabbed an upholstered recliner and turned it over on top of him, just before he heard the loud roar and felt the pressure building in the house. The next thing he knew the metal top of his gas grill came flying through the sliding glass door just 10 feet away. When the tornado had passed and he ventured outside, he discovered three 8' sections of his privacy fence were across the street, half of the limbs from his trees were snapped off and hanging from the power lines, and about 10% of his roof was gone.
Then last night we went to another friend's house and worked for several hours hauling limbs and patching his roof, before the next rain came.
So it has been quite an exciting few days. But thankfully, we came through it without any damage to the family or house. God was very gracious to us.
Nashville Tornado Survivor
PS: By the way, I did the math last night for how fast I was travelling and how far the limb was away from my body when it hit. If I had arrived at the point of impact 57 milliseconds later (57/1000ths of a second), it would have come in the front passenger window and I would either have had glass all in my face (and possibly wrecked), or could have been impaled with the limb. THAT'S SOBERING. I am very thankful to still be here.