In the month since Tennessee’s vicious tornadoes, the hardest-hit survivors are still picking up the pieces.
The scene surrounding Nate Landsperger’s house, on Holly Street in East Nashville, is one of brick homes reduced to rubble, an 1899 Victorian knocked off its foundation and several others peeled open to reveal their mundane contents — beds, dressers, a vacuum.
“It looked like somebody had taken a landfill and barfed it all over the neighborhood,” Landsperger said of sunrise on March 3.
The tornado blew out the living room wall of his family’s home, the upper floor collapsed and his shed was blown into a neighboring home.
His home, built in 1930, was a total loss — one of Nashville’s 2,242 structures damaged or destroyed by the EF-3 tornado that plowed its way across 60 miles. In all, seven tornadoes that night killed 25 people, knocked out power for 100,000 and caused nearly $70 million in damage.
Thus far, rebuilding has been slow. In the past month, Metro Codes says 168 storm-related permits have been sought: 39 for demolitions and the remainder for rehabs or new builds.
Landsperger noticed right away when something new joined the fray on his street: wrecking crews.
But as the demolitions began, he decided his cleanup would be different.
“For whatever reason, I fixated on the water heater.”
A Blend Of Feelings
“And I put an ad on Craigslist: $40 bucks,” he said. “I just listed it: ‘Water heater, home was damaged by tornado, I’d like to sell, $40.’ It’s a $600 water heater normally. It’s only been there four years. It works fine.”
So as his family — husband, wife, and sons ages 3 and 6 — found a new rental home, sorted out insurance and began to brace for the coronavirus outbreak, Landsperger made a decision. Someone should have whatever was salvageable, on the cheap, before the inevitable demolition.
“We can reuse it,” said handyman Epifanio Hernandez as he dragged a couch onto his truck trailer, alongside cabinets.
He and a friend treaded with care beneath the collapsed beams in the living room. They’d already taken appliances, bricks, paver stones, wood and bits of trim, with plans to gather the fence remnants.
“I’m happy that it’s not going to a landfill,” Landsperger said. “The house will live on.”
And for Hernandez, it was a bargain moment in a time of pricey raw materials. But not a gleeful one.
“It’s like a blend of feelings right here, all kinds of feelings of together,” he said, “because these people are losing a lot.”
‘Just Like That, It Was Gone’
For the Landsperger family, the tornado brought all the makings of a nightmare.
Nate was woken up by chance when his electric toothbrush started buzzing oddly. Maybe a power surge, he guesses now. Moments later, city tornado sirens and phone alerts went off.
They had enough time to grab some cushions and get into the crawlspace.
“Within 10 to 15 seconds, that’s when the tornado hit the house. And we just heard a bunch of smashing and bangs and pops and stuff like that. And just like that, it was gone.”
Water began to drip, and then he caught his first glimpse through the hole in his home.
After his family evacuated, he spent the night in a back room. There was no way he’d fall asleep. And he was being roused periodically by the voices of firefighters on the street as they went door to door calling in welfare checks.
At sunrise, Landsperger joined his neighbors outside.
“The first thing I noticed when I came out: the garage was completely gone,” he said. “It was over there in the road in pieces.”
Left behind: a barren concrete slab jutting into the backyard.
And some patiently hovering carpenter bees.
“It’s funny, because these carpenter bees used to live in this garage. Now where are they gonna go?” Landsperger says. “We’ll have to see when we build back if they decide to move back in.”
And his family will rebuild. He guesses it’ll take more than a year.
A few days ago, they took the next step toward that goal. They hired a wrecking crew to finish what the tornado started, clearing the way for a new home.