In January, many of us were still in disbelief that 2010 was a decade ago and trying in vain not to date documents 2019. You might say we were living in our own little bubble. That all changed in the early morning hours of March 3, 2020, when an EF-3 tornado decimated that bubble.
In the end, three people were killed and more than 1,300 homes and buildings in Wilson County were damaged or destroyed by tornado winds of up to 165 mph.
Moments after the initial touchdown, Wilson County law enforcement, emergency personnel, resident volunteers, and local officials were making their way to those neighborhoods and businesses to help. “No one knew at that time how much damage we were looking at.” Lebanon Police Department Public Information Officer PJ Hardy said. “We knew it was significant, but I don’t think you can prepare yourself for the sight of those homes.”
Something else Hardy and other first responders weren’t prepared for was the volunteer effort. “Almost immediately people started showing up at the prescient. Others who lived closer to the areas that were the most heavily hit went right to work. As tough as that night and the aftermath were, the volunteers brought an electric energy to the recovery. It was something to see and feel”
By Friday, March 6 damages were estimated at more than 1 billion dollars.
Even though it looked like it couldn’t get any worse, it did.
The tornadoes seemed to be an early wake-up call that natural hazards still loom large as whispers about something called COVID-19 soon turned to roars.
From Tornadoes to Covid-19
On April 2, Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order requiring all Tennesseans to stay home unless carrying out essential activities.
The goal…to slow and hopefully curtail the novel virus that first made headlines in late 2019.
It was up to Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto and other local officials to educate and enforce guidelines for Governor Lee’s order.
A task that proved challenging to say the least. “The shelter in place order brought some confusion early on. Everyone had to be educated on who was in charge. Davidson, Shelby, Knox, Hamilton, Madison and Sullivan Counties own their health departments, so their County Mayors were making executive orders and people wanted the other 89 counties to do so as well.” Hutto continued, “Then, we learn that those other 89 county health departments, including Wilson, are controlled by the state. Therefore, we had to wait, each day to hear Governor Lee’s direction.”
Mayor Hutto faced a tug of war each day. “Some thought we were doing too much others not enough. All the while, we felt the weight of each citizen on our shoulders to protect and yet maintain an economy so people could live.”
Soon days turned into weeks then months. That’s when a plan to begin reopening slowly began to take shape. But this didn’t mean life would go back to normal. Not by a longshot. “People go back to their lives; they remain effected and still in need of help.” Mayor Hutto said. “Thanks to Recover Wilson-a long term recovery group formed by Pastors Regina Girten and David Freeman, Wilson County now has a solid foundation to be prepared for the next disaster.”
Because many local businesses were primarily shuttered for two and a half months, owners had to get creative while looking for ways to stay connected. Necole Bell who owns The Beauty Boutique Salon & Spa in Lebanon overhauled her stores website to make it easier for customers to shop for clothing and beauty essentials.
“Until Covid, our site was set up for customers to book appointments and learn more about our store. We built a new ecommerce site in five days. That was a gamechanger.”
In addition to the website, Beauty Boutique offered customers curbside pickup, local delivery, and shipping, as well as Facebook Live events showcasing BB’s new spring inventory. Beginning in May, salons opened at half capacity and at press time spa services are still being phased in.
No one with an internet connection can deny the impact social media played in helping business owners stay connected to customers.
Gym’s like Hot Yoga Lebanon, Sports Village Fitness, and Taylord Fitness offered an array of Facebook Live classes for members to stream.
When we were sick of cooking at home restaurants were there to save the day. Sammy B’s, Town Square Social, Cheddar’s, Wildberry Café, Sake’, and many more offered up their culinary de-lights curbside.
How Wilson County will fare when the dust settles from the pandemic is an open question, as it is for many areas throughout the US. Unlike many other places, Wilson County has had a practice of surviving devastating events.
As businesses were still boarding up busted windows from the tornado mere days after the first touched down on March 3, a makeshift sign went up on the Southside of Lebanon’s square, that established a new town motto, “TN Strong.”
It was during this time that Mayor Hutto noticed something familiar. Among the scattered debris and shuttered business doors, were signs that our community would get through this. As emergency personal and volunteers continued to work round the clock, residents rallied around their favorite businesses. “You realize that people in Wilson County will be all ‘hands on deck’ when there’s a crisis. You realize organizations may be the most important tool you to have to put all the parts together. You learn to never underestimate the public when there’s a cry for help. Maybe the most important lesson is that there are always rainbows in the storm. No matter how bad things got, there were blessings mixed in that would really blow your mind.”