Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Remembering the Tornado

Friday April 7, 2006 was a warm and sunny day with spring fully in bloom. Folks were looking forward to the weekend, but also keeping an eye out for stormy skies. The rest is history, now part of the fabric of the college. We'd like to get your perspective of the day, if you would like to share.

I remember many of us in a hallway next to the Humanities break room in the Ramer Building. We were standing around, waiting for the tornado warning to pass and kidding around with each other about the storm.

And then Suzanne Hesson came running in, declaring the tornado was on campus. The building coordinator radios confirmed it a moment later.

Suddenly everyone went quiet and sat down on the floor.

I crouched next to a Coke machine, holding my briefcase over my head in case the ceiling came down.

We waited.

And then it was like a bomb went off. There was a blast of debris shooting down the adjacent hallways. The ceiling tiles started rattling and were sucked up for a moment. Our ears popped. There was a terrible roar.

20 seconds later it was over. We realized the ceiling was not going to come down, the walls were not going to crash in and we were still alive. There was an eerie silence and dust filled the air.
What do you remember? Click comments and let us know...

These photos come from Robert Higgenbotham taken the day of the tornado:


Anonymous said...

It was really a day I don't think I or anyone else on campus will ever forget. I was in the Media Services area with several other faculty and staff. We could hear the tornado coming and felt the change in pressure in the room. I remember feeling very safe. There were so many people having private moments on their own spiritual levels that I honestly didn't think anything would happen to us.

Anonymous said...

An Extremely Blessed Experience

On that April 7, 2006, Penny Tucker and I had gone out for a quick lunch. On our way back, we noticed that the skies looked odd, like a heavy rain was coming. By the time we got to Vol State’s parking lot, in the rear of the Wood Campus center, we both expressed that we had better get inside before the storm catches us. As some may know, my office in the TRIO area looks over the Wood parking lot, the tennis courts and beyond…the direction of the soon to be tornadoes. As soon as we got into the office, I immediately started checking emails as usual and responding.

Since Penny was a Building Coordinator, she started getting emergency messages over the campus radio, while I am responding to emails. Within a minute or two, Penny said they are calling for us to go downstairs to the basement of Wood. As I am pecking away, I say, “O.K., I’m almost done.” Before she could finish her sentence of, “They really need us to go now”! Simultaneously, I heard the ‘National Broadcast Emergency BEEP’ on the radio and started to shut things down, looking out the window for a last time while Penny was covering the office with prayer. Note: We had just re-organized over 100 student files…smile.

From the time we pulled into the parking lot from lunch to ten minutes later, tornadoes were pounding our campus. At the time, there was only one student with an elderly parent in our office. The student said they needed to go. Of course we told them that they needed to go with us to the basement. From where we were near Maintenance, we only felt a temporary strong wind but heard very little. The most shocking experience was coming out of Wood feeling so safe and seeing the great deal of destruction as far as we could see in almost any direction. It certainly was such a blessing that there were no serious injuries especially after the havoc that scurried over our campus.

As most were trying to navigate their pathways home, I was headed toward further tornado warnings that were in Rutherford County. With a brief moment of being able to get a call through, my husband thought that maybe I should stay on campus…”And do what?”, I said. I talked him in to trusting me to get home. After of few hours of finally getting to 65 South via Millersville, with a blown-out back window, I am praying and driving into an eerie storm of hard rain and speeding vehicles as if we were actually trying to beat the next tornado. I finally got home to LaVergne safely in the garage around 8:00 pm with my children rushing to hug my neck…and to see my car damage. I am not sure they really understood my extremely blessed experience at 2 and 5 years old, but they knew that I was just as happy to see them as they were to see me.

Andrea Boddie
TRIO Student Support Services Director

Vol State said...

Remembering that day is very hard for me. We were evacuated to the basement of the Wood Campus Center, thinking this was just another drill. When our ears popped, we knew something had happened. Two hours later, we were allowed out of the basement and asked to walk to the Pickel Building until further notice. Everything looked like a bomb had hit it. There were cars scattered over Gallatin Road and the eerie sound of the alarm still going off. I made my way up to the top area of the bleachers in the gym and started to cry for my family, wondering if they were still alive. Cell phones were useless. Finally we were allowed to leave the campus using the Gap entrance. That's when I really broke down. I began hearing from my family and couldn't wait to get to them. I hope I never have to go through anything like that again. Doris Stafford

Anonymous said...

I had gone home for the day to be with my family. At that time I only lived two miles from the campus in Cambridge Farms subdivision. As the storm approached we watched weather reports, that is until the power went out.

The first indication that this would be a big storm (aside from the meteorologists telling us it would) was the deep-sounding thuds that emanated from our attic. We looked outside to see large hailstones, some almost as large as baseballs, landing on our roof and in our yard.

My wife was amazed and encouraged me to go into the yard to pick up a few. I informed her that I wasn't that stupid. Hailstones that large, dropping out of the sky, are traveling in excess of 100 mph. I wasn't about to risk my life for a piece of ice. I did, however, go out afterward to pick up many of the stones and placed them in a cooler. I thought the power might be off for a while and we might need the ice to preserve some of the items in our refrigerator.

I had a good time showing the stones to my daughters. Then I felt badly about the matter as we were having fun and the sirens and helicopter sounds were increasing with pitch and frequency. Something bad had happened.

I had learned from my neighbor (who had a working radio) that a tornado had touched down. I asked my wife to look after the kids so that I could go to campus. The trip was short-lived as Harris Lane was a filled with traffic. I returned home to see what else I could learn. By 5 o'clock or so in the afternoon I decided to take my oldest daughter (who actually slept through the storm) to see what had happened.

There was still a line of traffic on Harris Lane and I met several colleagues who told me that a big tornado had hit us. I learned that Caudill Hall, where my office was located, took the worst of it; that the Ramer building had significant damage; and that cars had been tossed all around. Ron Coleman and Skip Sparkman were so animated that I was almost reluctant to continue onward.

I tried not to get in the way and parked in the Annex lot on the east end of campus and walked down Gallatin Pike to the west end of campus, where there was substantial damage. Like the other tornado tourists, I couldn't believe my eyes at all the debris strewn about. I vividly remember how all of the insulation had been blown out of the Nissan dealership and decorated the trees like it was Christmastime. I also remember that the president's office had been blown out into the yard and across the street (I guess that’s where it was. The office and its contents weren't anywhere to be seen, yet was literally everywhere).

On the way back to the car I picked up my daughter who was by then tired of walking. She snuggled into my chest and relaxed. Someone from an SUV on the road asked if we were okay. It was Laura Black. She was concerned that we didn’t have a ride or worse, were caught up in the storm. She later told me that she felt somewhat at peace, secure in seeing the figure of me holding my daughter. I suppose that the trauma of the tornado was so stressful that any "normal" thing was a blessing.

I came back the next day to photo-document the aftermath. I teach a physical geography course and this was a very teachable moment. The pictures and descriptions are still on my VSCC web site today. Every year around this time I drag out the photos to teach about the F-3 that roared through campus.

-- Keith Bell

Mary said...

It was a day to remember. I had seen the weather bug warning that a tornado was coming our way and had called my son, who was home alone to take cover. My words of wisdom were go to the bathroom, get in the tub and bring a book with you. He handled the situation well, and fortunately, a good friend was able to make it to our place not long after the tornado hit.

I also remember telling Skip that I was leaving since my son was home alone and he said no way. He made me go to the designated safe area and literally within seconds of the door being closed, the tornado hit. Glad I have such a good friend/boss to look out for me.

After the shock had worn off, I remember calling my sister and trying to reach my kids- of course all the cell circuits were going crazy. Once everyone knew I was safe, and I knew my son and daughter were safe it was time for reality to set in.

I do remember the intial walk through the wreckage of the Ramer building and then moving to the Wood Campus Center for another scary wait. Afterwards, seeing what was left of my car and then trying to find a ride home.

Out of all negative experiences come positives as well, and I'm so thankful that so many friendships developed as a result of the shared experience.

Penny Tucker said...

The tornado has forever changed the way I view Tornado Warnings. That April day has given me a whole new sense of urgency and being prepared. Overwhelmed with relief that VSCC did not have any major injuries and that we did not sustain any deaths from this tornado but devastated at the same moment over the destruction that the storms left behind. When the Building Coordinators were sent to check the safety of the campus it was a moment that can not be put into words. I immediately felt compassion for war torn countries as this was the picture the tornado painted for me. Cars moved from one spot to another, vehicles mangled in trees, windows blown out, trees resting across entire parking areas, debris from places unknown left behind for clean-up, etc. Beyond that picture was the look of coworkers faces when you shared with them that A Parking Lot looked like a total loss. It was at this moment of time when the big picture of what happened truly hit home for many of us.

As many others on campus, my first instinct was to warn my family and let them know I had survived. All cell towers were jammed and it was virtually impossible to make contact with the outside world. With one son at Gallatin High School and another landscaping on Belvedere Drive it made for a very sickening feeling. Faith was the only thing that kept myself and many others together during these next few hours. For reasons beyond our control or what we can process, the tornado missed 4 schools which were in the direct path (GHS, RMS, Sumner Academy & Guild). This alone saved hundreds of children from being injured or worse. If the tornado had hit 1 hour later many of these same children may not have been in the safety of a school building but outside playing and unaware of the dangers that were just ahead.

The true impact of the tornado did not actually hit me until the next morning as I had to travel to Nashville and visit my dad in the ICU unit at Centennial. It was at that moment traveling Nashville Pike that I saw a true miracle which transpired on campus. We ALL made it!!!!!!!!!

Be thankful for all miracles!

l.a. black said...

I was desperate to leave campus that day because my father was in the hospital, but my dean, Bonny Copenhaver, fortunately persuaded me to stay because the weather was getting rough. I ended up in the break room across from HR in the Ramer Building. I remember Eric Melcher stating that the television stations were reporting the storm was headed towards Vol State and how we could count it as a free PR hit for the day. Everyone was laughing, not realizing we were about to live through a tornado. I also remember Suzanne Hesson running in from the parking lot, announcing, "It's here!"

There was no time to panic or fear. Fear came only after the tornado had passed. For some time after, everyone was unnerved. Later that day as everyone was sorting out how to get everyone home, I saw Keith Bell walking towards campus with his daughter. The sight of Keith walking, holding his beautiful daughter, was the first calming vision that comforted me after the storm and assured me that the worst was over.

Vol State said...

I recently attended the production of Fiddler on the Roof on campus, and was so glad to once again be sitting in the Wemyss Auditorium. My sons have been in VSCC's music program over the last five years, and that auditorium was sorely missed since the tornado in 2006.

As for that fateful day, my son was on campus when the tornado hit. He watched a tornado move right over Pickel Building, and was rushed along with all the students, toward the Southern end of campus. As he was halfway down the sidewalk toward Wood, something compelled him to turn back and run into Pickel, where he hid under a sink in the men's bathroom, alone. A few minutes later, Lynn Peterson walked into the bathroom, and they rode out the storm together.

My son has very fond memories of the moments immediately following the tornado when everyone on campus shuffled back into Pickel. He says that everyone was shaken, but calm. In order to keep the crowd relaxed while students, faculty and staff were trapped on campus, Aaron and a friend rolled a piano out of the music room, grabbed his guitar, and the whole group began to sing, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." He describes it as an almost movie-like moment-- but during that time with no cell phone service, and fears for the whereabouts and conditions of his family-- a moment that helped to allay his fears, nevertheless.

Yes, I'll be there for the commemoration.

Rhea Pulliam, Mother of Aaron Keen

Anonymous said...

We were in the annex 300 building when the alert went out. Within minutes there was concern that a child was missing so I left the building and started toward the main campus looking for the child. As I got near Gap Blvd, I looked up and saw the funnel cloud with debris flying about it was that moment I was concerned for the people on the campus. Returning to the 300 bldg, I gathered some equipment and the only student I had left and Tammy we took my jeep to the main campus. The ride over was an eye opening experience, the main campus was trashed and I truly expected to see bodies hanging from the trees. Meeting up with Campus Police and Maintenance, we began a search for any injured or trapped persons. Meeting up with Danny Gibbs, he and I began a door to door search. It wasn’t until I opened the door on the second floor east wing of the Noble bldg. did I see the true extent of the damage. I could see into the Admin building from the door way. Due to the amount of damage countywide, we were alerted that we could expect a 45 minute delay in police, fire or EMS assistance. I was and still am impressed with the calmness and efficiency of the staff and faculty at responding to request to move or stay calm.
I attribute the lack of serious injury or death to the campus police and those that work so hard to establish an emergency response protocol and the proper response by staff and faculty.

Anonymous said...

3 Years Later - and it seems like only yesterday. A day that changed many lives; some in positive ways and others in negative ways. A memory that will never be erased. A memory that is hard to explain and can only be understood by others who experienced it with you.

April 7, 2006... Many say it was a normal Friday day but not for me. Something was different. Intuition some say. I agree. The Campus Police weather radio then was located in the officers’ area. But April 7, 2006 I moved the radio to the front office, and the back up battery was replaced. Suzanne Hesson asked me to go to town with her on our lunch break. Usually we walked together during lunch, so I was always with her that time of day. Not that day. I told her I had an uneasy feeling and better stay on campus. (It was bone chilling to find out later that she barely got into the Ramer building before the tornado hit.) Chief Rogan was going to be off that afternoon to participate in a mock disaster drill. (Who knew it would be the real deal!) Usually I wouldn’t have had a second thought about his absence. But that day was different, and a replacement officer was called in to cover. The other full-time officers were at in-service training. That left me and two part-time officers. Not a normal day for me from many perspectives to say the least...

At 1:00 Eric Melcher from PR called to make sure I was aware of the potential for severe weather. I tuned into to the local weather and anxiously watched. I contacted Danny Gibbs to prepare to carry out our tornado plan. By 1:45 the emergency building coordinators were told about the potential bad weather and to turn on their portable radios and wait for roll call. Many people started calling and wanted to move on to the safe areas. I wasn’t going to stop anyone who wanted to move on. By 2:07 the evacuation was officially launched. By 2:19 I received an all clear that everyone was evacuated. At 2:23 Sandy Forrest yells on the portable radio that the Fox Maintenance building had been hit, and the tornado was headed to the main buildings. I remember briefly looking out the large window in the training room seeing a man literally hanging side ways from a sign post. Then the window shattered. Kelley was yelling, “Can you feel the pressure, can you feel the pressure!” After that moment things were blurry. I didn’t feel or hear anything. No train sound, no ears popping, no pressure. The next thing I remember is receiving word that Caudill Hall had been hit. Everything moved quickly from that point forward.

So much has been learned since that day - how important emergency preparedness really is and how important it is to heed life saving warnings. I’ve learned to never have the thought “it won’t happen to me”. It can happen and more than once. I was not directly affected by the February 2008 tornado that hit Macon Co. so hard. But the stress I never allowed myself to feel after April 2006 flooded over me as if I was directly hit again.

I thank God for the blessing of safety and calmness He provided that day. It is only because of His hand in so many things (emergency plans, drills, and warnings) that we are able to say no one was hurt. Lisa Lynch

Cory Payne said...

I actually wasn't here, but at Station Camp down the road. I was sitting in class and and the teacher had been looking on the net all day long, but had been telling us nothing was coming our way and not to be scared. But, as the class went on numerous students were getting called out to leave school. So I texted my mom asking if I was leaving, only to find out she knew nothing of what was going on. As class got out around 100 students had been called out to leave and go home. I got to my next and had just set my stuff down and went out in the hallway to talk to a friend before class started in about 3 minutes. Well most of Seniors were leaving for the day, because of senior project. Well just as most were getting to their cars the alert came over the speakers and speakers outside. To get down and for the seniors to come back inside A.S.A.P. As we got down most of were starting to get scared for our lives. We faced towards the walls and crouched down with our faces in our laps, hoping that everything would be ok. Next you know the lights went out and students were gtting out their cell phones and recording goodbye messages to their familes incase they didn't make it out alive. For me I was on the side of Station Camp where all of the damage happened outside. A few minutes later after that people began having panic attacks, and freaking out. Around 10 minutes later we heard a loud noise that sounded like a train was coming towards the school. The doors to the left of me flung open, and if I would have backed up a little bit I would have been able to see the tornado through the doors. It crashed through the green house. Then it moved down a little ways and tore up the football, baseball and softball feilds. about an hour later we were aloud to get up and go outside. As we went outside to look at the damage it had caused, many students came to find out that boards and and other things had been flung through their car windows. It was day that none of us will ever forget, being that many of us could have died from the tornado.

Vol State said...

Other than the email I had gotten earlier in the day that conditions were right for a tornado, I had no idea one was actually headed toward campus. I was on the phone on hold when I heard the announcement to go to one of the buildings safe places. I was glad I had read the email to know where the safe places were. I still didn’t think the situation was urgent though and hated to hang up the phone. When I got the second announcement over the intercom, I put down the phone and headed for the middle hallway in Ramer. I noticed on the way that several of my colleagues were not heeding the call.

In the safe room, no one seemed to be taking the warning seriously. One woman said the announcement didn’t mean much; it just meant that conditions were right for a tornado. She said she had gotten similar warnings all the time in another place where she had lived. Then the lights went out, but I still wasn’t that concerned. A few seconds later, our building coordinator calmly said, “Here it comes.” I crouched down and held on tightly to two colleagues. One was crying softly. I honestly wasn’t afraid, but I prayed a quick prayer aloud, partly for the benefit of the one crying. The colleague on the other side quoted the Twenty-third Psalm. Then I felt my eardrums pop and a thick cloud of dust fly through the air. I thanked God we were not hurt.

Next, Debra said we needed to go in the bathroom because there was the possibility of another cell touching down. Looking at the all the glass in the mirrors made me tense. By this time, I was holding one of the flashlights. I don’t remember how I got it. In the faint light, I could see a stranger with blood on this face. I found out later a campus employee had pulled him out of a car that ended up on the lawn. The man didn’t know how he had ended up in the woman’s bathroom in Ramer.

I still had no idea how devastating the storm had been, but one woman peeked around the corner and said, “It’s bad, ya’ll.” I was getting tense at this point, but I also felt surges of adrenalin. As we were finally instructed to leave Ramer to go to the basement of Wood Campus Center, I wondered if anyone had been seriously hurt. I doubted if anyone would tell us then if they had been. We marched to Ramer, almost afraid to look at the devastation.

Wood Campus Center was dark and hot, and we stayed there for a long time. I felt a sense of camaraderie with my co-workers though. Eventually, we got the word to go to the gym. At least, we had more room and could see daylight. Dr. Nichols told us we could not leave because the roads were blocked. We had no idea how long we’d have to stay.

In about an hour, I had some friends who had been visiting campus when the storm hit. They had parked by the gym and asked me if I wanted a ride. They were going to leave down Gap Blvd. I asked if three colleagues could ride too, and my friends consented. The only problem was that my friends’ car was almost out of gas. When we finally got to a gas station, the pumps wouldn’t work because the electricity was out. By that time, I was able to contact my husband who picked us up. We asked to try to drive to campus. Amazingly, we were able to do so. We discovered all our cars were destroyed. One person with us found his across the street from where he had parked it. Other cars were in trees. That night and the next day, my muscles ached, but I was happy that we were all safe and alive.

Cindy Chanin
Associate Professor of English and ESOL

Anonymous said...

I have many, many memories of that seems like yesterday...right before we evacuated to the basement of Wood, I looked out my office window and over the tennis courts the sky was emerald green...will never forget that...also, I recall how cold Saturday morning was...the day after.... I've told my new associates here in Indiana all about 4/7/06 whenever Tornadoes are mentioned...

Jeff Hairfield