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When tornadoes touched down in Nashville on April 16, 1998, they left behind shattered businesses and homes and disrupted the lives of many who live and work in the area.

Two tornadoes, which spawned from one severe storm, hit the downtown and eastern areas of Nashville on a Thursday afternoon, when many citizens were at work, school or on the roads.

The first tornado touched down at around 3:30 p.m. in the downtown area. A local television station captured the tornado on its skycamera as the storm cell roared into the downtown area. Tornado warning sirens wailed, alerting those in the storm's path to take shelter.

The second tornado touched down around 4:30 p.m. in East Nashville, damaging residential areas, churches, and The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson's historic estate.

Both tornadoes were estimated to be between F-3 and F-4 on the Fujita scale, which measures the severity of tornadoes. An F-4 tornado has winds as high as 260 mph.

In total, a six mile section through Nashville was damaged by the twisters. Approximately 100 people were injured; 1,228 homes, 600 businesses and 300 buildings were damaged.

Downtown Destruction
Was Widespread


The most severely damaged area was downtown Nashville, where hundreds of buildings were shattered and shaken. Masonry, glass and other rubble rained down from office towers. Hundreds of cars were crushed by falling debris or had windshields blown out. Storefronts in the city's tourist district also received heavy damage.

The state Capitol was damaged by high winds as was the James K. Polk office building. This forced the closure of state offices on Friday, April 17.

The Gaylord Building, which houses the headquarters of two cable TV networks, The Nashville Network and Country Music Television, also was badly damaged. In addition, most of the trees in Centennial Park were uprooted.

A crane being used to build the Tennessee Oilers' new football stadium overturned, causing some damage to the structure.

Several nursing homes reported serious damage, and patients were trapped in at least one for a short time. At Cornelia Fort Airport, 30 private planes worth about $3 million were destroyed.

At least 20 schools were damaged by the tornadoes, forcing the closure of schools in the Nashville area on Friday, April 17. Six schools in the area remained closed because of damage or power outages for a week.

Local Emergency Unit
Headquarters Also Damaged


The headquarters buildings of both the police and fire departments were damaged. Broken glass littered parts of the first floor station.

The roof was lifted off the safety section and some offices were destroyed. Several fire department vehicles, including cars for the chiefs, were damaged, too.

In addition, the headquarters for the local American Red Cross chapter sustained some damage. The tornado's heavy winds shattered part of a wall surrounding the Red Cross chapter's blood services division, but no one was hurt.

 

   

Chapter workers relocated blood services to other rooms at the headquarters and even extended their hours of service to meet the needs of the disaster.

Power Outages
Cause Major Problems


Power lines were downed throughout the city. With traffic lights out and debris blocking some roadways, rush-hour traffic on Thursday was gridlocked.

By Friday, April 17, about 90 percent of the electrical power had been restored to downtown. The local utility said on Monday, April 20, that 4,500 homes in the East Nashville area would probably remain without power for at least another week as workers continued to clear downed poles, lines and trees.

Federal Aid Offered

The Nashville twisters were part of a storm front that had threatened Tennessee all day. Nine tornadoes touched down in eight counties, killing eight people, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

Six counties were designated as disaster areas, making federal aid available. The counties were: Campbell, Davidson, Lawrence, Maury, Pickett and Wayne. The assistance, coordinated by FEMA, included grants to help pay for temporary housing, minor home repairs and other serious disaster-related expenses. Low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration also were made available to cover residential and business losses not fully compensated by insurance.

Cleanup Begins

On Friday, residents were asked to stay out of downtown. Because of the restricted access, most offices and businesses in that area were forced to close, even if their buildings were not damaged.

An estimated 60,000 people work in the downtown area of Nashville. Crews worked around the clock to clear the debris and get the downtown area ready for the next work week.

In many of the downtown high-rise office buildings views were blocked by plywood. Some streets remained blocked off for up to a week because of shattered glass that dangled from many of the buildings. A strong gust of wind could have caused it to fall anywhere. Crews continued to work through the week to knock out the remaining glass.

Rebuilding the downtown area to its former state could be a lengthy process. For example, crews estimate replacing the windows in the Tennessee Tower would take three to four weeks. And replacing the windows in the James Polk Center would take months.

For businesses in the downtown area, rebuilding could take even longer.

Many office workers were told to dress casually for the beginning of the work week, because they could be needed for clean-up tasks.

Downtown Offices Face Challenges

One common problem among the downtown offices was the misplaced amount of paperwork. When the windows blew out, papers from numerous desks were blown about. In some cases, the papers landed on the streets below. Many workers now face the monumental task of finding and organizing their paperwork. Others face the task of recovering damaged hard drives. The damage occurred when computers were knocked from desks by high winds or when the subsequent rains soaked the hard drives.

Companies in the downtown area also must cope with their personnel. Some of those who worked in the area had homes that were damaged and needed to concentrate on their home lives. In other cases, employees had some trauma resulting from the storm.

In addition, some employees had child-care issues, since some schools in the area remained closed for more than a week after the storm hit.

For some companies, the tornadoes altered their business in another way: it improved it. For example, shops across Nashville were extremely busy repairing automobile windows. Many companies were so swamped they brought in people from out of state to help keep up with the high demand. Many repair places were also opening early and closing late.

Returning to 'Business As Usual' Requires Planning

Overall, the Nashville downtown area began returning to 'business as usual' within the first week after the storm, though the sounds of hammers and drills may still punctuate the air in some areas. Most of the larger organizations in the downtown area, including banks and finance companies, were spared much of the recovery process by having a good contingency plan in place.

Backups of computer drives and hard copies of paperwork were essential for companies to recover quickly. Others, who weren't so prepared, had a harder time. They may have received help rebuilding the physical aspects of their business, but recovering the day-to-day operations of the business required an internal solution.

Lessons Learned

The tornadoes in the downtown Nashville area were just one in a string of disasters that have brought contingency planning to the forefront.

Hopefully the lessons learned in Nashville will influence others who are unprepared to plan for the unexpected. As the people in Nashville can attest, disasters can - and do happen - without a moment's notice.

 



Janette Ballman is an editor for the Disaster Recovery Journal.