The one where I inadvertently get really cheesy when recalling the 1998 tornadoes

downtown.JPGI was all set to write something reminiscent about the April, 1998 tornadoes, when Mother Nature struck again recently, causing untold damage in some areas of our state. We were among the lucky ones this time, and, for that I am grateful, because many people were not so fortunate.

However, I find that April 16, 1998 still sticks in my mind. If you lived here then, that day is a, “Where were you when…?” event.

I worked at a hospital, and, I remember driving in that day thinking to myself, “I’ve never seen the sky like this before, but, whatever.” That afternoon, the buzz was about tornadoes in the area, so, we went through the usual motions that are done in safety drills. I didn’t really think anything unusual was going on until the overhead announcements started saying things like, “Alert for tornado, take cover immediately.”

So, I did what any normal person would do and went outside. I saw the tornado over my children’s daycare center.

Let me repeat that. I saw the tornado at the buidling where my young children were. Knowing that I would be fired (not cool to leave during things like this at a hospital), I went to go get the car, and, it wouldn’t start. Panic ensued, and, I couldn’t reach Busy Dad who was locked down at his work, but, he was eventually able to go get them. I was very relieved, but, confused when he showed up at my work with them, and, then wasn’t able to leave, because the hospital wasn’t letting people out. He spent the next 5 hours in my office with 2 small kids, stressful, but, I was secretly glad they were there because the bad weather just kept coming.

Over those few hours, the teamwork I witnessed was extraordinary. My job was such that I was involved with the logistics of what do do with staff, patients and visitors, as well as prepare for patient admissions as a result of the storms. The daycare kids were fine (Busy Girl can still remember the teachers lying in the halls on top of them and the doors were flying open and shut), but, we had to transport all of them from the center to the hospital and arrange care for them so their parents (hospital employees) could continue to work. Administrators and cafeteria employees alike prepared over 1,000 sandwiches to serve visitors and staff during the time people weren’t allowed to leave. Though it sounds trite, people just chipped in and did what needed to be done.

A few days later, a group from work went to East Nashville to help clean up. I have never seen anything like what I saw there. The damage was just mind-boggling. Now that I’ve ever been in a war, but, I know now why people say it “looks like a war zone”.

Again, the teamwork and the volunteer spirit was nearly overwhelming. Strangers comforting grieving homeowners, church groups there with mobile kitchens to feed the hundreds of volunteers, neighbors helping neighbors (my cheese progresses faster from here on out, but, I can’t help it, it was that moving) put their homes and their lives back together. It was nearly impossible to choose where to begin, but, I hope we did some good that day.

April 16, 1998 was a day like no other, at least for me, and, I have never been more proud to be from from the Volunteer State. I hope the things that Nashville learned that day kept our most recent events from being even more tragic than they were. I’d like to think I had a tiny part in that, too.

4 Comments so far

  1. David Ortiz (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 9:40 am

    I was a librarian at the Vanderbilt music library back then. There was no warning whatsoever. From my vantage point at my desk by the window, I could see that the sky was getting really freaky, and you could feel the pressure dropping in the building. Someone finally suggested we clear out the library and move down to the first floor. About that time all the doors started to rattle, and by the time we got down the stairs it was over.

    The tornado passed very close, knocking down a few trees in Centennial Park (and killng an ROTC guy whose unit commander idiotically decided to ride it out). Had it hit the building there would have been a lot of dead students and staff.

    I hope the warning system has improved since then.

  2. HolyMama! (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 1:23 pm

    oh how scary! THe bit about the teachers laying on top of the kids while the doors opened and shut…?! Gah.

  3. SistaSmiff (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 9:30 pm

    The company where I work, and was working at on 4-16-98, is a rather large company that covers a lot of downtown real estate. One would think they’d have had an emergency plan in place, but, there was none. Zip, zero, zilch. Never mind about 1500 people work there.

    Me and maybe two other people on my floor seemed to be the only ones who recognized the seriousness of what was happening (two of us great with child) and we had enough sense to know that standing in front of glass windows on the 5th floor was not wise and that maybe moving downstairs would be better than watching the cars flying and transformers exploding.

    I can remember sailing down those stairs, meeting “security” people who had fingers up noses and behinds, totally clueless what to tell us. There was not even an announcement made on the public address system. Inexcusable. I have to remind myself that before 4-16-98, it was widely thought that tornadoes could not hit major, downtown areas.

    On 4-7-06, I am happy to report, a plan was in place and announcements made and that baby I was carrying will be 8 years old in July and thinks it’s quite cool he and I went through that thing together.

  4. Liz (unregistered) on April 21st, 2006 @ 2:33 pm

    At this time I was 7 years old and living in Clarksville. I was scheduled for a doctor’s appointment at Vanderbilt, and my dad was working at the Blue Cross Blue Shield offices on West End. I remember watching the TV, calling my dad, and crying because I was so worried.

    A year later the tornado came to Clarksville, and destroyed the ‘downtown’ area. That was scary as all get out, but thank goodness for basements!

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