A personal account by Neil Burton | 1999 sophomore

I remember Jan. 22, 1999 better than most any other day in my tenure at Austin Peay. It was the day a tornado ripped through downtown Clarksville and through the heart of the college campus.

Neil Burton

I lived in Harvill Hall at the time, in the top corner facing Harned and “the bowl”.

It was an unusually warm day, and the news had warned us of a front coming through that would create some meteorological chaos. Growing up in Tennessee, I honestly didn’t think too much of it until I went to bed around 1 a.m. the morning of.

I remember laying in my bed, looking out my window towards Harned Hall and seeing the lamps sway excessively in the wind.

Debris litters the top floor hallway in Harvill residence hall.

I distinctly recall noting that they had never swayed quite like that before. Minutes passed, and eventually, I fell asleep. The next bit gets a little blurry.

Around 4 a.m. I heard a loud banging on all the rooms doors, including mine. Yelling and hustle quickly followed as we all started coming to and stepping out of our rooms. We were being ordered to the middle floor of the dorm because there was a tornado warning and we were in its path.

I was one is the last ones down to the floor, and was stuck kneeling in front of a door. Pretty soon after that moment Hank, our RA, yelled to get down and that “it” was coming.

It rumbled so loudly the building started to shake and that’s when it really started to set in that we weren’t getting out of this. As it blew over us an unsecured door on the opposite end of the hallway flew open, only to be grabbed and shut almost as quickly as it happened.

And this part I remember more than anything. I could feel the air being sucked out of the hallway, across my fingers and under the doorway I was stationed in front of. Not much longer after that it was over.

I don’t recall how long it took for us to realize we could — and should — evacuate the building, but the sun had started to rise at this point. The damage that had occurred in the dark soon came to light.

Walking out of the dorm into the grass, we all looked around at a campus littered with trees and parts of equally historic buildings. What was once a partially wooded campus center was transparent.

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.
Looking toward Clement, Browning to the left.

It was one of the saddest things I had ever seen. I was a sophomore then, and really enjoyed sitting under the trees and benches around “The Green Man.”

Eventually, trees were replanted, the campus cleaned up and buildings renovated. But it was never quite the same.