When tornados tore a path of destruction through Wilson County in the early morning hours of March 3, the area around the city of Lebanon was among the hardest hit.
In the weeks since, the parishioners and staff at St. Frances Cabrini Church have been rallying to help their neighbors and fellow parishioners.
“We have about 14 families that have been affected,” said Nikki Gann, the parish secretary at St. Frances Cabrini. “Of the 14, some lived in mobile homes and they have lost those mobile homes. Some did not have as severe damage as others. Some parishioners, their houses are questionable” and they are still waiting for structural engineers to determine if it’s safe for them to move back home, she said.
Although three people in Wilson County died in the tornadoes, none of the St. Frances Cabrini parishioners were hurt, Gann said. But they are still suffering. The parish staff has reached out to Catholic Charities of Tennessee for help, including counselors. “What we’re seeing from our families, they are showing signs of suffering from PTSD from the storm,” Gann said.
The parish moved quickly to offer material support for those affected by the storm, Gann said.
“We took up a second collection that we’re going to use to help our families directly,” Gann said.
Every year during Lent, the parish collects donated toiletries. This year the parish added to the list of needed items more things to help families hit by the tornado.
It was a “huge response,” Gann said. People have been dropping items off at the parish, she said. With stacks of donated items, “we do not look like a church office.”
St. Frances Cabrini’s response wasn’t limited to parishioners. The parish has joined the broader relief effort from other churches and organizations in the city.
Days after the tornado struck, Gann represented St. Frances Cabrini at a meeting for community leaders and church leaders to organize relief efforts. “There were so many” churches and organizations represented and offering to help, Gann said. “That was big and helpful.”
Various churches were providing a meal for all the tornado survivors forced from their homes, and St. Frances Cabrini joined the effort to provide lunch one day.
Like many people in Middle Tennessee, Gann and her family first learned of the approaching storms when weather alerts began popping up on their cell phones.
Gann lives about two miles south of Interstate 40 near exit 239. “My husband could see transformers exploding. The rest of us were hunkered down,” she said.
“We heard lots of noise and then dead silence,” as the tornado passed, Gann said. “We lost electricity so we were all trying to use our cell phones, but our cell phones were not loading fast enough.”
The tornado passed through north of the interstate and missed the Gann’s home. “We were very, very lucky,” she said. “We did not have any damage other than some limbs in our yard.”
The tornado damaged several factories and warehouses along the interstate near Highway 109. “When you drive through, you can kind of see,” Gann said.
In Lebanon, “It came through the Leeville Pike area, and the areas affected there are Stonehinge subdivision and Stonebridge subdivision.,” Gann said. “We actually have parishioners in both those subdivisions that have major devastation.”
The cemetery on South Maple Street was damaged, Gann said. “It was mostly the huge, old trees.” The nearby neighborhood of South Maple Trace also had a lot of damage.
Numerous businesses along U.S. 231 between the interstate and Leeville Pike sustained severe damage, Gann said.
A group of mobile homes behind the Wal-Mart on U.S. 231, several home to St. Frances Cabrini parishioners, many of them Hispanic, were also hit and destroyed, Gann said. “That whole area received a lot of damage.”
“One of the families behind the Wal-mart just moved here,” Gann said. “They have not even lived here two months and they’ve lost nearly everything they own.”
“Even further east of Lebanon there’s more damage out that way as the tornado headed out of Wilson County and into Smith County,” Gann said.