Monday, April 4, 2016

A Look Back at April 7, 2006

We crouched in the dark hallway of the Ramer Building waiting for the roof to rip off. I held my briefcase over my head while my colleague did the same with her laptop case. Debris shot down the hallway just a few feet from us. Dust filled the air and our ears popped from the pressure change. The ceiling tiles bounced and the roar was deafening. It was only 30 seconds and then silence.

The F-3 tornado hit Volunteer State Community College at 2:23 p.m. on April 7, 2006. It was part of a storm that spawned tornadoes across middle Tennessee, before slamming into Gallatin.

We opened the emergency fire door and found out just how lucky, and quite frankly well placed, we had been. Just a few feet from where we took cover the twister ripped through the lobby, tearing out doors, blowing in part of the roof and sucking out the entire reception area.

We emerged to find a very different campus than the one we had left. There was $9 million damage to the campus. All 14 buildings on campus were damaged to some degree and two had major structural damage. The tornado twisted the roof of Caudill Hall, collapsing part of the second floor onto the first in a shower of bricks. The President’s office in the Ramer Administration building took a direct hit. The walls caved in and a big pile of rubble marked the spot.

The President and his staff found safety in the college business vault. The rest of the 400 students, faculty and staff on campus took shelter in safe spots throughout the campus. We were shepherded there by Vol State employees designated as Building Coordinators, all part of the college emergency plan. Just across the street dozens of homes were destroyed and seven people died.

The searches began at 2:40 p.m. when we were given the all clear. By 3 p.m. it became clear that there were only minor injuries on campus. We knew that parents, friends and loved ones would be quite concerned once news of the tornado began to circulate. I began to call the television stations. Through a series of live interviews we kept reemphasizing the fact that everyone was okay. By 3:45 p.m. we were back on the phone letting the media know that campus was closed. Once again, we had one clear message: we would find a way to get everyone off campus. This was a major issue because 95 cars parked in the Ramer parking lot were smashed in the storm.

Recovery began immediately. The Tennessee Board of Regents had dealt with other colleges hit by tornados in the past. So they had an emergency response plan already set up that they enacted immediately after they heard about the tornado. There were 100 workers from 18 different companies on the campus the morning after the tornado. That afternoon Governor Phil Bredesen took a helicopter across Middle Tennessee to see the damage. They landed next to the tennis courts and toured the damage at Vol State. Media outlets from across the area converged on the campus. We did live interviews with CNN and later found coverage discussing Vol State in newspapers as far away as Australia and Russia.

The day after the tornado was, quite frankly one of the longest days of my life. We were all dead tired and, although we didn’t know it at the time, suffering from post-traumatic stress. We still had jobs to do. In retrospect,t many of us feel it was not the event itself that caused the stress, but rather the massive undertaking of clean-up and recovery.

Thanks to all of the hard work, by the TBR, the contractors, our maintenance and facilities staff and our faculty and staff, we were able to get the college up and running again just seven days after the tornado.

It was quite a feat: 11 classrooms and 72 faculty and staff offices had to be relocated. Classrooms were set up wherever space could be found, including the Rochelle Center. The Business Office was relocated to the Wood Campus Center Nichols Dining room. They sorted through thousands of documents sent flying by the tornado. Some documents were found in Kentucky and returned.

Students finished the spring semester. Commencement ceremonies were held in the Pickel Field House less than a month after the tornado. We had an, at the time, record graduating class of more than 900 students. 

That's how I remember the 2006 tornado. How about you? Feel free to share recollections in the comments section. - Eric Melcher


  1. I remember the cars in the parking lot looking like a pile of Hot Wheels. Also, in the Wood parking lot, it seemed like ever other car's back window was blown out. Mine was one. Finally, the storms were moving south-southeast,... I had to go southeast to get home. I got home safely around 10pm. Thanks to the planning of our Volstate administrators, faculty and staff, no one on our campus was seriously injured. A. Boddie

  2. I thought I was amazingly calm during the tornado, but that night and the next day, my muscles ached. The aftermath must have been more stressful than I realized.