Sept. 3 marks six months since Mt. Juliet experienced a devastating tornado. Help from surrounding cities as far away as Chattanooga came to the aid of the community. Citizens in Mt. Juliet & Wilson County organized groups to clean up and repair the community for rebuilding.
Kenny Martin, MJ City manager, remembered, “I will never forget standing in the middle of Mt. Juliet Road at 2am with debris everywhere. As the sun started to rise, I could truly see the impact of the tornado and extreme amount of damage and destruction. I could also see citizens, employees and countless volunteers from all over the city, county and state chipping in to help rebuild our city one brick at a time.”
“It’s hard to believe that six months have passed since that tragic day. Our community pulled together as a team to help rebuild our community,” said Martin.
There were 398 properties damaged in the City limits of Mt. Juliet, which include 68 homes, eight businesses, and two schools destroyed and one school with 50% damage.
Clearview Estates, Hunting Hills, Pleasant Grove Estates, and Triple Crown were the subdivisions with the most damage. Many of these families have started the process of rebuilding their homes, while others are still struggling with their insurance companies.
Jesse and Marsha Dompreh, who lost their home on Catalpa Drive, were out of town when the tornado destroyed 80% of the Pleasant Grove subdivision and left one couple dead. “When we returned home on March 4, three quarters of our home was decimated by the storm which blew in at a speed of 165mph and hovered over our area for half an hour,” said Dompreh.
Upon arrival they could not identify the house except for their daughter’s vehicle sticking out of the debris. “There was one thing we prayed for, to recover our wedding album. Our prayers were answered when one of the many volunteers, Timothy, retrieved it from the devastation; that we knew was a miracle,” Dompreh continued. “Also, our daughter’s civil air patrol jacket was recovered in Lebanon by the Davenports, which was another miracle.” They are now in the process of rebuilding their home.
Recovery is continuous and ongoing. The first family, who had their home devastated, moved into their new house last week in Triple Crown.
Several businesses along Mt. Juliet Road and Volunteer Blvd. were damaged or destroyed. Along with having to create a plan to rebuild, they had to relocate their business store front to survive. One of these businesses was Advanced Hearing Solutions.
Dr. David Gnewikow stated, “When our business, Advanced Hearing Solutions, was destroyed by the March tornado we had no idea that it was only the beginning of what 2020 had in store. Recovery from the tornado has been, and continues to be, a monumental challenge, especially in the midst of a pandemic. It has been a long six months of waking up every morning and fighting to put the pieces back together. We have received so much help from neighbors, friends, strangers, and the Mt. Juliet community along the way. Despite all the obstacles, August was the best month we have had in our fourteen years in Mt. Juliet. We have a lot of work ahead of us rebuilding both a building and a business, but I thank God we can, and that things look brighter today than they did on March 3.”
As the tornado passed across N. Mt. Juliet Road, West Wilson Middle and Stoner Creek Elementary were destroyed in a matter of minutes. Students and teachers will be misplaced for approximately two years and now share Mt. Juliet Middle, Mt. Juliet High, and Green Hill High.
“Little did we know that as we celebrated Read Across America at Stoner Creek Elementary on March 2, that it would be the last day of school for many months or that it was the last day of the everyday life many of us took for granted. The tornado destruction occurred in the early morning hours of March 3, and two weeks later we faced a pandemic that no one could have imagined or understood the implications following an EF-3 tornado. Today, we are still waiting on the insurance companies to reconcile the loss of two school facilities, but all the while thankful that we lost buildings and not lives. We continue to struggle with how to ‘do’ school, as well as face the untenable tensions of returning to school as it used to be, but also maintain safety for students and staff,” stated Dr. Donna Wright, Director of Wilson County Schools.
“I continue to be jarred by how quickly everything changed for faculty, staff, and students at WWMS as well other families,” said Beverly Sharpe, who was the principal of West Wilson Middle last March. “Mt. Juliet is a resilient community filled with people who have cared for each other. We are anxious to see the damaged building replaced with a new school. In the meantime, MJHS and WWMS are working well together – it has been great to see the WWMS students on the MJHS campus!”
Stoner Creek principal, Amanda Smith praised her staff, parents, students, and community, “Losing Stoner Creek to the tornado was devastating. The tornado changed our school, but it certainly did not change the people. If anything, it made the Stoner Creek family stronger than ever before. We have learned the power of leaning on each other and our community to bring our school back to life,” said Smith. “Despite being in a temporary building and going through a pandemic, our school year has kicked off being nothing short of amazing! Stoner Creek has begun a great adventure and we are looking forward to rewriting our story while here at Mt Juliet Middle School until we get into a new building we can once again call STONER CREEK.”
Recover Wilson County has been an instrumental part of helping Mt. Juliet recover from the tornado. Co-Chairs Regina Girten and Michael Moscardelli are working on long term efforts. “Our community’s ability to reorganize and come together as quickly as we did has allowed us to mobilize in such a way to meet the long-term needs of the community,” said Girten.
Covid-19 delayed efforts but plans to help the community have continued to persevere. The next Walkabout to reach out to survivors will be Oct. 17, 2020. Recovery efforts are estimated to take between 15-18 months to reach full recovery.