This story is part of a series marking the one-year anniversary of the 2020 tornadoes. Visit the series page here.
Tornado sirens startled Andy Brinkman awake. And he was soon in his truck on the way to Hermitage to check on residents at the Margaret Robertson Apartments. It was one of several large apartment buildings and condo complexes in Nashville to take direct hits from the Super Tuesday tornado, which cut a 60-mile path through the city center. Some of the buildings were quickly condemned, displacing thousands of renters overnight.
Brinkman thought he’d find minor roof damage as entered the Margaret Robertson parking lot. But it was worse.
“I could see cars flipped over on their tops. I could see basically the top half of the building down there missing,” said Brinkman, the vice president of maintenance for LHP Management, the firm that owns the apartments.
The strong winds destroyed power lines, took out cell phone service, folded trees, caved in walls and even tossed dumpsters. The damage was so severe that three brick buildings had to be torn down. The complex was among the 120 tornado-related demolition permits issued by the Metro Codes Department.
The apartments had an estimated $2 million in damage — though Brinkman still marvels at how only a single resident needed medical treatment that night.
“This happened [at] 2 o’clock in the morning and really no one was injured,” he said. “We had one lady that got taken to the hospital. She had minor injuries. She came back that same day.”
A dozen families, however, were displaced. There was a scramble to get those residents placed into hotel rooms until LHP staff members could find them more stable housing.
Displaced survivors were also given ready-to-eat meals and gift cards to purchase essential items. Residents also received support from local churches, neighbors and community groups.
Soon after, property owners dove into a months-long restoration. The majority of displaced families returned to rebuilt homes at the end of 2020.
“I was really emphatic to the idea that if they can just cross these couple of hurdles, people can get moved in before Christmas,” said Council member Erin Evans, who represents the area.
Evans worked with the owners to fast-track building permits and cut through red tape during the construction process. The city also waived permit fees related to the recovery.
In all, she says, close to a thousand renters were affected by the storm in her district. Most came from Meridian at Hermitage, a large apartment complex that is just now getting ready to reopen.
“I know some people relocated to different cities. Some people relocated to just different parts of town,” she said. “And then some people I just lost touch with, period, and I don’t know what happened.”
Evans says the pandemic stretched Nashville thin and shifted attention away from tornado recovery. She says there’s still plenty of people who haven’t received the help they need. Evans, however, is hopeful the one-year anniversary will lead to more action.
Resources are available online here from the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, which has awarded more than $6 million to nonprofits working on storm recovery.