A personal account by Natalie Kilgore | News Editor for The All State 1999
Even though it has been 20 years, my memories from the morning of Jan. 22, 1999, are as fresh as the apple sitting on my desk. As News Editor, I had been at The All State office until approximately 2:30 a.m. getting a jump on the next week’s edition. When I walked outside, I noticed how blustery, unseasonably warm and humid it was.
I returned to Harvill Hall and watched the weather alerts warning the area of tornadic activity, but even as the wind howled in the bowl outside my first-floor window, it never dawned on me that something would actually happen.
Fast-forward a couple of hours to my RA Hank Ballew waking me from a deep slumber, yelling and pounding on my door. I yelled back at him to go away (we were friends) but the yelling only intensified. I stumbled over and opened the door.
He yelled “TORNADO – get down NOW!” and began dragging me out the door. I somehow had the foresight to grab my purse, phone, keys and my pillow before he pulled me into the hallway where the entire building of residents had gathered and was on their knees.
It seemed like seconds later that everything went pitch black and we heard the most horrendous noise as the building began to shake. Most people describe tornadoes as sounding like a freight train but, to me, it sounded like a helicopter was landing on the roof of Harvill Hall. I remember an intense pressure in my ears and the tiny stabs of relief that coincided with the Pop! Pop! Pop! of glass shattering as the windows of each room were blown out.
I felt ice cold air coming from underneath the closed door I was kneeling before. My friend Joseph covered me, himself and a couple others with a blanket he’d brought from his room as the chaos continued. The whole thing probably lasted 30 seconds but it felt like 30 minutes. The shaking, howling and thundering stopped as suddenly as it had started.
I will never forget the seconds of sitting in total darkness and shock with my dormmates until the silence was broken by a lone voice saying, “So, do you guys think we’ll have class today?”
We were essentially trapped in Harvill Hall until we could get the second-floor emergency doors to open – large trees had fallen across the main entrance of the dorm. To exit, we would have had to crawl through them which was frowned upon by the university (some of us did it later in the day anyway once we were allowed out).
Once we were given the ok, we walked outside to what was another world. Our beautiful campus had been decimated. The hundreds-year-old trees for which the APSU campus was well known had been obliterated.
Debris was everywhere.
Harned Hall’s majestic columns were now scattered across campus. The roof of Harvill Hall had been ripped off like a band-aid. The top of the Browning Hall bell tower had disappeared. One of the things I remember vividly are the piles of dead birds on the sidewalks, in the parking lots and even a couple that I found stuck inside the grill of my mangled car alongside debris.
In the end, I was luckier than many of my friends. My room had only a tiny hole in one window from a pebble that had flown through it. My belongings were unharmed while the neighboring room’s windows were blown out and many of her belongings soaked and destroyed. My car – while mangled – was able to drive and repairable which would not have been the case if I had never gone to work at The All State office that evening and returned only to park on the opposite end of the lot merely two hours before the tornado hit.
The chain of events afterward I can’t quite remember in succession because it was utter chaos. I know we were assembled in the Dunn Center at one point – held for what seemed like an eternity on the gym floor – and told to go home until further notice.
I remember the shock of limping home in my mangled car that my dad tried to patch back together for a short-term fix. I recall bawling when I found out my new home for the semester would be Cross Hall – completely across campus and far away from the majority of my Harvill Hall peer group.
I remember being forced to go to PTSD group therapy for all Harvill Hall residents. One thing I am clear on is immediately snapping into reporter mode and making the most of the few shots left on my 110m film pocket camera that morning for what would be a now-delayed but the three-times larger special edition of The All State. I remember how we all got through it together #GovernorStrong and the bond those of us living in Harvill Hall formed, having survived Jan. 22, 1999, together.