This story is part of a series marking the one-year anniversary of the 2020 tornadoes. Visit the series page here.
Some homes that were flattened by the Super Tuesday tornadoes in Putnam County have been rebuilt. But most are still in progress — either just getting going or stalled at the starting line.
Tamara and Charles Williams are building back bigger and better, though they didn’t get their permit until June of 2020. Charles is acting as the general contractor and doing much of the work himself so he has the money for upgrades, like a concrete safe room in their closet, large enough for the whole family.
The walls of their new home are also made of concrete, 12 inches thick.
The Williams also purchased an adjacent lot on Plunk Whitson Road where the house had to be torn down. There wasn’t much left of either home after the storm.
Two days after the tornado struck, as seen below, their home had already been scraped into piles. But there were still people missing in Putnam County. So firefighters watched as tractors sifted through the debris one more time.
Half a mile away, the McWilliams family on Clemmons Road faced a similar sense of devastation. Terri McWilliams is seen below trying to salvage a few items on March 3, 2020. She says now that her family has become much less concerned with belongings.
The McWilliams decided to rebuild but weren’t able to get a permit until August. Now the bones of the home are finished. But much remains to be done.
In this photo, Terri stands by the opening to their basement where her middle son dove down the steps as the tornado took their house.
Many lots remain empty, or with just the beginnings of foundations built. For some, the owners have just had a harder time with their insurance companies. Others chose to just move on.
But the demolition signs still line the roads that were hardest hit.
Some empty lots near the McBroom’s Chapel Church of Christ, which was also torn down, will become a memorial park and playground. TennGreen, along with Putnam County and the city of Cookeville, is still raising money for the effort. The park will be dedicated on Hensley Drive at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Those who survived say they feel lucky because they know how easily they could have been among the 19 who were killed. Aside from the park and playground, a small memorial tree grove has been planted in their honor.
The deaths were concentrated in this area, pictured below from March 4, between McBroom Chapel Road and Hensley Drive.
Keith and Cathy Selby’s mobile home would have been viewable in this photo, but it was sucked away by the storm.
Their son, Brian Selby, says he couldn’t imagine his parents losing one another, so he’s found some comfort over the last year that they died together.
But the reminders are all around him, as rebuilding continues.