Home / 1999 Tornado: 20 Years Later / Jan. 21, 2009: ‘Everyone . . . wanted things to be right again’
Archival photos taken soon after the severely damaging F3 tornado struck downtown Clarksville TN on January 22, 1999. Austin Peay State University sustained heavy damage to landscaping, trees, and many buildings across the campus.

Jan. 21, 2009: ‘Everyone . . . wanted things to be right again’

Editor’s Note: This is a special republication of our 10-year anniversary edition of the 1999 tornado titled “Celebrating Restoration.”

 

A personal account by Deborah Shearon

On Jan. 22, 1999, I reached the intersection of College and 9th at approximately 7:30 a.m. Not knowing the extent of the damage on campus, I was a little surprised when I was stopped a block from campus by a Clarksville police officer.

Archival photos taken soon after the severely damaging F3 tornado struck downtown Clarksville TN on January 22, 1999. Austin Peay State University sustained heavy damage to landscaping, trees, and many buildings across the campus.

The streets leading to campus were all blocked by police. I told the officer that I worked on campus and was told no one was being allowed on campus at that time. When I told him I worked in the Physical Plant and that we were essential employees, he allowed me to pass.

Driving down Eighth Street, turning on Marion and heading behind the stadium to reach the Shasteen Building, I did not see much damage. Upon arriving at the Shasteen Building I learned the campus had received damage but at that time no one knew to what extent.

There was no electricity on campus and therefore we had no telephones. Luckily most of us had cell phones so we were able to communicate.

Not everyone from the Physical Plant made it onto campus. Some were turned away by the Clarksville Police and some never ventured from their homes.

The director of Purchasing at that time was Nate Siegel (not sure of the spelling of his last name) and the director of the Physical Plant was Bill Taylor.

The workers in the Physical Plant went to work quickly. The men in the trades were sent out on campus to help in any way they could. The number one concern was to make sure that no students had been injured.

Joe Mills, director of Housing, and Jennifer Menningal, vice president of Student Affairs, were also in action, checking on students and calming everyone down.

As one of the only office workers who were able to get on campus, Mr. Siegel and I spent the day contacting TEMA and FEMA, ordering generators, getting supplies and making whatever outside contacts we could.

It was late in the afternoon before I was able to break away and walk around campus. It was amazing the damage that had been done in just a matter of a few minutes.

From the front of the campus, on College Street, one could see all of the broken windows in McCord, Browning and Clement. I cannot remember all of the damage but there are a few things I can still picture.

One was the large piece of wood sticking out of the side of the Kimbrough Building. It looked as if someone had taken a 2×4 and driven it into the brick. It is hard to imagine that wind can do that.

The other thing was the Ag bus had been picked up and flown into the grassy area behind the Marks building. The worst thing to me though was all of the beautiful trees that had been in the middle of campus, in what we all call the Bowls. All of the old trees were uprooted and lay destroyed all over the campus

. Harned Hall was missing its roof through the middle of the building. (We do have a before and after picture hanging in the hallway on the first floor)

The next day we were able to get generators set up in the Shasteen Building so that we had electricity and phone service. Things were very crazy there. Everyone was working long hours and doing jobs that were not normally their job. A few days later the typical January weather was back. This made cleaning up a task.

Over the next few weeks, everyone on campus worked very hard to get things back to normal. I think everyone really took ownership in the campus and wanted things to be right again.

Student Affairs put students who had lived in the dorms and did not go home up in hotels around town. Physical Plant employees, including myself at times, drove students back and forth from the hotels to campus.

It took several months for things to look normal again. It took several more years for things to be right. Even after buildings are repaired and trees are cleared, the paperwork for such a tragedy goes on for a long time.

Our campus once again is beautiful but I am sure most would agree the center of campus will not be the same for years. The beautiful old trees that lined the bowls cannot be replaced.

About Kamea Ferguson

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