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Three years later: Tennesseans remember lives lost in deadly March tornado

COOKEVILLE, TN - MARCH 04: Volunteers work to clean up tornado-damaged areas on March 4, 2020 in Cookeville, Tennessee. A tornado passed through the Nashville area. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
COOKEVILLE, TN - MARCH 04: Volunteers work to clean up tornado-damaged areas on March 4, 2020 in Cookeville, Tennessee. A tornado passed through the Nashville area. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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It's been three years lives were lost and devastation riddled Tennessee on March 3, 2020.

In just three hours, the overnight March 2-3 tornados bolted across 175 miles of Middle Tennessee. Surveyors revealed that 10 tornados touched down across the state, with seven of those ripping through Middle Tennessee.

From March 2-3, 2020, multiple supercell thunderstorms produced several tornadoes across Tennessee, central Alabama, southern Kentucky and southeast Missouri. Just one of those supercells that began in West Tennessee near the Mississippi River formed the seven tornados that left 25 people dead in Middle Tennessee.

According to the National Weather Service, the March 3, 2020 tornados were the worst the state has seen since the tornados of April 27, 2011 across East Tennessee and the Super Tuesday tornados on Feb. 5 and 6, 2008.

The EF 4 tornado that devastated Putnam County is the sixth deadliest tornado in Tennessee's recorded history.

Remembering the victims:

  • Josh, Erin and 2-year-old Sawyer Kimberlin are remembered as kind people always willing to help their friends.
  • Jessica Clark, 31, of Cookeville worked as an Accountant Tech for the City of Cookeville. Family members say she was known and loved by everyone she met.
  • Amanda Ann Cole, 34, of Sparta, was babysitting for another victim, Dawson Curtis, when they both were killed by the tornado.
  • Dawson’s father, Terry Curtis, 54, also perished in the tornado.
  • Loved ones say 4-year-old Hattie Collins had an infectious smile. Her family says she was in the arms of family and neighbors when the tornado struck.
  • Stephanie Field, 36, and her son Harlan Marsh, 5, passed away after a tornado hit their home in Cookeville.
  • The tornado took the lives of Todd Koehler and his wife Sue Koehler. Sue was a manager at Algood’s Walmart.
  • Pat Lane, 67, was an active member of Collegeside Church of Christ and loved grandmother.
  • Leisha Rittenberry, 28, still had “a lot of life left to live” her family said.
  • Family members say Bridgette (Ann Marie) McCormick, 13, always had a smile on her face.
  • Keith and Cathy Shelby passed away in the vicious storm.
  • Jamie Smith, 36, moved to the Volunteer State about 10 years before her death and owned a cleaning business.
  • Robert Dickson died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center from injuries sustained in the tornado.

The following data gathered by the NWS details the seven deadly tornadoes that ripped across the midstate.

Tornado 1: Benton and Humphreys counties - Camden

The tornado picked up in Benton County in the Camden area and left a path of downed trees and damaged homes. According to the NWS, the Ballard Road area was hit the hardest in the county. The tornado killed Carl Frazee and injured two others in Benton County alone.

The tornado made its way along the Tennessee River into Humphreys County next. Hundreds of trees were destroyed or uprooted along Crystal Springs Road, Hemby Branch Road, Clydeton Road and Lucas Ridge Road. Reports of roof damage also popped up on Clydeton Road. The twister uprooted more trees just off Highway 13 before breaking up.

Tornado 2: Humphreys County - McEwen

An EF-0 tornado damaged a small barn northwest of McEwen on Curtis Chapel Road. The tornado shifted to the east and uprooted trees on Tummins Road before dissipating.

Tornado 3: Davidson, Wilson and Smith counties

This EF-3 tornado had a track 60.13 miles long across three counties – the longest tornado path in Middle Tennessee since official tornado records began in 1950.

Tornado No. 3 first touched down in western Davidson County at the John C. Tune Airport. The airport sustained $100 million in infrastructure damage with more than 90 destroyed aircrafts.

It then tracked through the Germantown and North Nashville areas. NWS Storm Surveys reported EF-0 to EF-2 damage here, marking it the first tornado to strike the downtown Nashville loop since February 2000. Daylight hours revealed jaw-dropping destruction at popular spots like Christie Cookie, Jack Brown’s and even Kroger.

The storms collapsed the steeple of one of the oldest churches in Buena Vista, created in 1880, The Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church. The damage to the North Nashville area displaced dozens of North Nashville residents with much of the storm damage along D.B. Todd Boulevard.

The tornado gained more strength becoming an EF-3 tornado as it passed through East Nashville. Unimaginable damage consumed the Five Points neighborhood, where Nashville lost two of its own. Michael Dolfini, 36, and his girlfriend, Albree Sexton, 33, were struck and killed by debris after leaving Attaboy lounge, where Dolfini worked.

The couple’s deaths are the first in Davidson County from a tornado since 1998.

Multiple businesses suffered significant damage in Five Points, including The Basement East, BoomBozz Craft Pizza, Clean Juice, and Burger Up. The “I Believe in Nashville” mural served as an inspiring sign of hope for the city as it was left still standing next to one of the demolished businesses.

The wrath of the storm didn’t stop there. Coming across the Cumberland River with EF-1 and EF-2 damage, the tornado intensified to an EF-3 again in Donelson in the Stanford Estates subdivision and leveled Donelson Christian Academy, leaving a whirlpool of debris. In Hermitage and many other parts of Davidson County, the NWS observed EF-2 damage.

From there, the tornado regained its EF-3 strength when coming into Wilson County and left behind six miles of damage. The vicious storm killed three people there, including a couple married over 50 years that died side-by-side. Donna Eaton, 81, and James Eaton, 84, were killed in their sleep.

Brandy Barker, a 38-year-old mother of two from Lebanon, was killed at a CEVA warehouse on Athletes Way North while working security. The three deaths were the first in Wilson County from a tornado since April 1944. A trail of EF-1 and EF-2 damage continued through Lebanon.

At some points running parallel to I-40 in Lebanon, the tornado eventually reached into Smith County. South of Gordonsville, the NWS says the tornado flipped a mobile home and destroyed a number of barns and outbuildings before lifting south of I-40 near Lancaster Highway.

Tornado 4: Smith and Putnam counties – Buffalo Valley

This EF-0 tornado approached the Smith and Putnam County lines near Buffalo Valley before moving east. St. Mary’s Road showed roof damage to several homes. The tornado crossed over Highway 96 to Rock Springs Road leaving behind downed trees before lifting near Stanton Road, the NWS reports.

Tornado 5: Putnam County - Cookeville

This tornado with a range of EF-0 to EF-4 strength left behind a path of extreme damage from Baxter all the way to Cookeville.

The violent tornado killed 19 people, hurt 87 people and completely destroyed 30-35 homes. It’s the deadliest single tornado in Tennessee since an EF-3 in February 2008.

The tornado picked up with EF-0 damage northwest of Baxter in the Gainesboro Highway area. Building its strength, the tornado reached EF-1 and EF-2 status while in the Prosperity Pointe subdivision that’s north of Nashville Highway. While crossing Bloomington Road and Clemmons Road, the tornado became an EF-3 and severely damaged multiple homes.

NWS says the tornado became violent and intensified to an EF-4 near McBroom Chapel Road, bulldozing through homes and killing multiple people. Surveyors pinpointed the heaviest damage on Hensley Drive.

The EF-4 tornado completely destroyed an apartment complex on Echo Valley Drive before its strength tapered off to an EF-3 then an EF-2 for around two miles. The tornado quickly ended near Laurel Avenue. The tornado has been deemed the worst tornado in Putnam County on record and the worst tornado in the Upper Cumberland area since 1974.

Tornado 6: Putnam County - Goffton

What the NWS described as a “brief and weak” EF-0 tornado left damage to the roof of one house, a metal garage and an outbuilding in the Goffton area southeast of Cookeville.

Tornado 7: Cumberland County – Rinnie

This tornado started off Highway 127 and Atkins Road, damaging a mobile home and uprooting trees. Multiple outbuildings damaged – knocked over power pole, shingle damage. Reached maximum strength in the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area, snapping and uprooting thousands of trees. Getting closer to the Morgan County border, the tornado’s strength diminished.

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