A personal account by Gena Shire

In Jan. 1999, I was a student at APSU and living in the dorms. I lived in Meacham Apartments room 100, which is the building that faces downtown Clarksville.

Gena Shire

On the night of the Jan. 18, I was outside with my friends and fellow Meacham residents. About 1 a.m. there were three of us left outside and the weather started getting a little weird. We walked out into the parking lot and looked up around 1:30 a.m.

There were two different sets of clouds that seemed to be heading towards each other instead of in the same direction which was pretty strange. I told one of my friends that I bet a tornado would hit. Little did I know that statement would become a fact in about three hours.  We all went to our rooms and headed to bed. I woke up at 4:21 a.m. (I looked at my alarm clock).

Just as the residual power in it went out. There were strange sounds and no power so of course, I got up to see what was going on.

I opened my apartment door and saw a fire downtown and the weather was still a little weird. At this point, the RHD came by to let us know we had just been hit by a tornado and there was still a warning. We were told to get into our bathrooms and wait for the all clear.

My roommates and I all sat in the bathroom with a candle as our only light source. One of my roommates sat in the bathtub with a pillow over her head because she just knew there was going to be another tornado that would take us out and the pillow was going to save her life.

Around 5:30 a.m. I figured we were in the clear and decided to call my mother since I knew she would be awake. I used the dorm room phone because none of us had cell phones at that point. I spoke to my mother and let her know a tornado had touched down somewhere near campus (not knowing just how much it had touched down yet) and that we were all fine.

I asked her to call my friend’s parents and let them know we were okay since there wouldn’t be a better way to get a hold of people later. My mother said she would do that and thanked me for calling. We hung out in the dark dorm room until about 6:30 a.m. when two of my friends that had wandered over decided to go get breakfast for us at Burger King.

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.

They left and then those of us left behind were told we needed to go to the Dunn Center. We started wandering over to the Dunn Center via the main campus. We realized just how much the devastation was at this point.

Harned had lost its balcony, most of the windows were gone in the UC and the Z was missing from Ziegler. We didn’t have a way to take pictures because again, we didn’t have smartphones with cameras at this point.

As we were standing by the green man statue police (not sure if they were campus police or Clarksville police) showed up and told us unceremoniously to head to the Dunn Center and that we were not to be on campus during this time. We headed that way and upon arriving at the Dunn Center we found a mess.

There were people all over the place and the building was a little eerie with just the emergency lighting. Someone got a bullhorn and announced that we were to stay in the Dunn Center. We were then told the tornado knocked out the phone lines and they were letting the news outlets know APSU was fine.

My friends finally made it back with Burger King, having to go to one a little further away since the one close to campus also didn’t have power. They said Clarksville looked like a war zone and the police were closing roads and rerouting traffic all over the place.

We met up with other students who were freaking out and telling us what they had experienced that morning. One student brought a taillight up to us and said this is all that was left of her car. She was living in Harvill at that time which we found out later was a direct line of the path of the tornado.

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 voice on the bullhorn came back and let us know that it was clear for us to leave the Dunn Center, but we were not to go anywhere else on campus.

The students who were in the dorms that had been damaged were told to wait while those of us with ok dorms were to go back to them, pack a bag and then head home.  We were told to check our emails for information about the university being opened and the status of classes for the semester.

As a side note, while driving home to just south of Nashville it was super windy and cloudy. It was a bit scary to drive and that evening there were more bad storms that passed through the area. It was a great start to the semester.

A semester in which I had most of my classes in Harned, which of course was a building that was taken out by the tornado. My classes got moved to all over campus with only 10 minutes to get to them. It made for a tough semester, but at least everything pretty much turned out okay.