Posted by: vanhoff | May 17, 2009

My Tornado Story of 2009

Murfreesboro Devastated by Good Friday Tornados

By: Jon Van Hoff

      Murfreesboro, Tenn. – Two twisters sliced through Murfreesboro on Good Friday, killing two and injuring 42 people in Rutherford County. The battered residents waited for day light Saturday to dig out from a “direct hit” that flattened homes and businesses, including several large businesses off Broad Street.

            “The debris that was caught up in the funnel was enough to make anyone run for cover,” said Bob Warren of Warren Engineering in Murfreesboro. Warren, who helped with the late March tornado that struck Murfreesboro off Northwest Broad Street, has stayed busy working with several homes near the Blackman community that sustained heavy damage due to the heavy wind and hail. 

            “All I can say is that I am thankful that I am alive, and aware of my surroundings when the storm hit,” said Tammy Baskette of the Deerfield subdivision near Interstate 24. Baskette, who works with the Rutherford County Sheriffs Department, and was off duty when the storm hit. “After I knew the storm had passed, I sent my children to Mrs. Reese’s house just up the road. Her house had no visible damage, so I began to knock on every door gathering kids whose parents were at work and sending them up to Mrs. Reese’s house,” said Baskette.

“My biggest concern was the kids and my next door neighbor who was nine months pregnant and alone,” said Baskette. As the pounding of hammers ricocheted throughout the neighborhood during the interview, she said, “I am thankful for Mrs. Reese and our entire community. I did what I was trained to do, and that is to save lives.”

For 23.5 miles, the EF4 tornado cut through Murfreesboro with winds packing speeds of 166 mph to 200 mph. Roger Allen, director of the Rutherford County Emergency Management Services, said the tornado damaged over 818 homes, with 111 of those homes destroyed beyond repair. For nearly 36 minutes, the storm raged through the Blackman community crossing I-24, and moving through the Compton Road area northeast of Murfreesboro, some five miles away.

A separate EF1 tornado tore through the southern end of Murfreesboro about the same time. However, no severe injuries were reported and most of the structural damage was minor.

“I was leaving the Target shopping center off Old Fort Parkway, when it looked liked the Earth stood still,” said Marshall Hodge of Murfreesboro. “Over 50 cars were pulled in the Target parking lot with many just getting out seeing which way the storm was coming.”

Gary Neeley, a resident and homeowner in the Deerfield subdivision near Blackman, was in Mississippi showing horses when his son called stating that his subdivision was hit by the tornado. “I can only say that it took me two days to find out whether or not my house was still standing. For the Tennessee Highway Patrol did not allow me to enter until Sunday when debris was cleared off the roads,” said Neeley. Mr. Neeley’s home suffered minor damage to the roof and chimney top.

During the interview with Gary Neeley and Tammy Baskette, one could not overlook the damage that still surrounded the area. Contractors zoomed by in trucks as construction equipment was in full use as workers hurried to finish before the rain came down. “I am a lucky, vey lucky man,” said Neeley as he looked at his house still standing while other homes lie in shambles. “I have suffered roof damage, and will be getting new shingles put on next week, but again I am lucky.”

Sadly, two lives were lost during the storm on Good Friday. Kori Bryant, 30, and her 9-week-year-old daughter, Olivia, died outside their home at the corner of Haynes Drive and Sulphur Springs Road. Olivia was strapped in the car seat for safety reasons; however, Olivia was found 200 yards away from the home stated rescuers who were able to retrieve the body. Neighbors and friends say Bryant’s husband, John, also suffered injuries. John Bryant was taken to Middle Tennessee Medical Center for treatment. He was in critical condition Friday night, and flown to Vanderbilt Medical Center.

The estimated cost to businesses and residents is at $41.8 million. Mayor Tommy Bragg has asked for state and federal assistance and is asking that all insurance companies cooperate with the citizens of Murfreesboro during this hard time. Governor Phil Bredesen visited the affected areas on Saturday and said he would seek federal assistance. “My thoughts and prayers are with them. It’s very sad,” Bredesen said.

The EF4 tornado left a path of destruction and displaced many residents of Murfreesboro. This is 28th tornado to have hit the Rutherford County area since 1950 when the National Weather Service began keeping records. However, this is the first killer tornado to hit Rutherford County.

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