If you stand at the intersection of Highway 52 By Pass West and Brattontown Circle, or travel out Tuck Road, the picture is a lot different than it was 24 months ago, minutes after a deadly EF4 tornado swept through this area of Middle Tennessee, taking with it everything in the 20 mile path it cut across Macon County including homes, trailers, cars and the lives of 14 of our own, before moving on into Kentucky.
As the two-year-anniversary approaches of the catastrophe that came out of the sky, and cruelly tested our beloved community, perhaps it is only fitting that we go back to the beginning.
Steve Farrington and his wife, Serena Andrews Farrington, had been aware of storm warnings all afternoon on Tuesday, February 5th, 2008, and by 9:00 p.m. that night the National Weather Service begin reporting severe weather heading toward Middle Tennessee. At approximately 10:24 p.m. a powerful tornado roared through our community destroying 300 homes, damaging 150 others, seriously injuring over 70 people and 14 were later confirmed dead. The twister remained on the ground as it crossed diagonally across the county, leaving a debris field as wide as one-mile in places. It touched down on the west edge of Lafayette, demolishing homes on Golf Club Drive, crossing Long Creek Road, then traveling down Maple Grove Road, minutes later zig-zagging across Scottsville Road; the storm continued its path of destruction through Tuck Road/Akersville Road and the Williams Community area, then headed toward Galen Road before crossing the Kentucky border.
Steve Farrington, who was born and raised in Louisiana, grew up seeing tornado warnings flash across the television screen, but never imagined something like this would happen in this part of Tennessee, his home for the last eight years. Donald Dallas, who lived next door to the Farrington’s, was spending a typical evening watching TV, after his wife, Thelma, had gone to bed.
“I remember feeling uneasy all day,” Serena said, “and I wasn’t sure why. By all accounts the severe weather was supposedly dissipating, so I finally feel asleep on the couch that night.”
“I also watched television for a couple of hours that fateful night in 2008,” Donald said, “but I didn’t realize it was that bad until our daughter, Angie, called to warn us that a tornado was heading to Lafayette.”
By this time, the huge black funnel was already bearing down on the Tuck Road homes and the Farringtons rushed to the bathroom in the middle of the house after snatching their young daughter, Brea, out of bed. Steve used his body to shield his family in the bathtub holding on to the side rails, but the approaching winds, clocked at 180 mph, proved too powerful and the pressure began building under the house and the family was suddenly airborne before smacking to the ground with a sickening thud.
“I picked Thelma up and headed through the bedroom door,” Donald recalled, “and the house started to shake, as the deafening roar surrounded our home of 20 years. I put my wife on the floor in the hallway and all at once it seemed to explode as the door, frame and all, knocked me flat on my back next to her.”
Donald drug Thelma under the heavy door with him and that’s probably what saved their lives. “There was glass breaking all around us, with 2x4’s and other debris swirling in the air above our heads.”
As the wind finally began to ease up and the twister swept on down the road to the next house, the Farringtons were alive but were both seriously injured and the Dallas couple had only minor cuts and bruises. After word somehow reached them that the roads were virtually impassable, Donald realized the young couple badly needed medical attention, as he somehow managed to dig out his debris covered old GMC truck and take Serena and her child to Macon County General, where she was immediately transferred to Vanderbilt Hospital and her family took the young daughter. Steve was driven out on the back of a four-wheeler, because of his extensive injuries, after his condition worsened. He was then transported to Bowling Green Medical Center, in Kentucky.
In the days that followed, after the EF4 tornado knocked out 100 percent of electricity in the county, a door to door search was organized, with crews sent to every road, house, ditch, field, barn and shed that was in the twister’s path. The hardest hit areas were barricaded and the people of Macon County came out to help their friends and neighbors wherever they were needed.
“After the tragedy, the people of Macon County really came together,” Serena said on Sunday afternoon, as we all gathered at the Farrington’s new house at the same location on Tuck Road. “I look at everything totally different now and I don’t take anything for granted anymore. I actually find myself trying to accommodate people more in the new roles our lives have taken. I never could have envisioned the scenario that played out that night and I know that God spared our lives for a reason.”
“I for one, certainly have a new found respect for Mother Nature,” noted Donald “and at 66-years-old, I’ll admit that I get leery when the tornado siren goes off. The face of Macon County has changed forever and our paths have taken a different direction as we are all trying to move on and rebuilt our shattered lives. If the man upstairs wanted us, he would have taken us that night, but Serena’s right, we were spared for a reason, and I hope we can all live up to the good Lord’s expectations.”
“I didn’t realize just how good people really are,” Serena said in a wistful voice, “until something like this tragedy happens, then you know there is a God, there are friends on every corner and our beloved community is on the road to recovery.”
Donald and Thelma Dallas decided not to rebuild on Tuck Road and they bought a house on Douglas Lane, just off Union Camp Road here in Macon County.
Toward the end of March in 2008, Terry Gillim, Youth Minister at the Lafayette Church of Christ, noticed that the needs of the tornado victims shifted toward furniture, small appliances, tables and chairs, washers and dryers, stove and hot water heaters, so during the first week of April that year the Long Term Recovery of Macon County (LTRMC) was organized with Gillim elected President.
“Our initial donations that came the first few weeks after the storm were close to $50,000,” Gillim said on Monday morning, February 1st, 2010, “and were received from different individuals, out of town churches, banks, Jet Williams, Wild Turkey Federation, the Southern Baptist Convention, and several Catholic charities. Many of the organizations continued to contribute to the needs of the survivors and as of this date we have only three actives cases that we are currently dealing with and we have three on hold until spring, that requires clean up and yard work. I would say we have worked on almost 120 cases in the last 24 months, and everything has gone really well.”
“The anticipated time frame of two years was projected with a case load of 80 families,” Gillim continued, “and we have actually worked on 120 cases in those designated months.”
“All the time and effort that has been put forth and the sacrifices that have been made, I would gladly do again for our community. It has been amazing to me how everyone pulled together,” he smiled, “especially when you consider all the governmental organizations, local organizations, area churches and private individuals who came together to help rebuild Macon County. It’s been a long road, but if you drive through the affected areas, the rebuilding process has certainly been remarkable and definitely worth the effort as our community moves toward brighter days ahead.”
The Macon County Chronicle would like to once again pay our respects to the 14 people who lost their lives in the deadly tornado, that will affect our community for generations to come. They are: Mark Aaron Brown, Carol Irene Boyd, Javier Castillo Bueno, William “Bill” Clark, Johnnie Dollin, Dixie Marie Ellis, Stanley Eugene Francis, William “Tom” Manier, Joan Rodriquez, Courtney Lynn Payne, Rex Douglas Payne, Jimmy Carter Shaw, Pablo Osorio, Randy Wilkerson and the Welch family who were killed in car accident two days later, including Pastor Michael, his wife, Julie, and their two children, Jesse and Hannah.
It was a time of reckoning, of personal epiphanies and, ultimately, a time of compassion and gratitude for what remained and mourning for what was lost. Two years later, the wounds are still visible in broken tree trunks and bare hillsides, and the scars of loss will remain in our hearts forever.