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Homes flattened. People missing. Buildings collapsed. Debris everywhere. Confused neighbors eager to help.

This was the scene that started around 5 a.m. on Tuesday, March 3, after an EF2/EF3 tornado tore through Nashville.

While many Nashvillians grew vocally peeved when our local ABC channel postponed “The Bachelor”‘s “Women Tell All” episode to cover severe weather, I knew something was seriously awry. Snarky tweets poured in about the ridiculousness of this reprogramming … but my attention was on other tweets from one of my favorite accounts: Nashville Severe Weather. Shrill wind and sheets of rain picked up speed, and a foreboding chill descended upon Germantown. I know it was likely felt across Nashville, too. Once the synchronized emergency alerts lit up our phones, people began to take this a little more seriously. But most of us thought it was a severe thunderstorm warning.

Nashville tornado destruction Auto Zone germantown

I live in Germantown just two blocks from this leveled Auto Zone. Image: Mallory Dawson

When news-savvy friends texted me that this tornado was headed to Germantown, I popped out of bed. This felt like a targeted attack. On the walk from my bedroom downstairs to the hall closet, I pass precariously by vibrating windows. Our vinyl-sided, cheaply insulated rental house felt like it could be sucked into the sky at any moment as my roommate and I crouched in the coat closet for half an hour. I can’t describe it any other way than feeling like multiple massive high-speed trains are zooming by you on all sides.

RELATED: How to Help — Nashville Tornado 2020 (and updated photos of the tornado damage)

That’s the thing about these alerts. Many of us (but definitely not all of us) have become desensitized to the hysteria surrounding weather and emergency alerts because they’re constantly in our faces. Fire drills, school closures and work delays have become routine — and they should be preventative and informative — but many don’t know who to trust or what to pay attention to when it’s time to take action. Some urge us to prepare for the worst, while others insist the media blows everything out of proportion. But the one thing I learned last night: these alerts shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Nashville tornado destruction Germantown

This building was home to Music City Cleaners and other businesses including The Onyx Room and a software development school for minorities. Image: Robert Wallace

According to a tweet from The Weather Channel meteorologist Greg Diamond, “The heart of Nashville had approximately a 5-10 minute lead time from when warning issued to when tornado hit.” It felt like mere seconds. Somewhere in that timeframe, our power shut off — the storm left 50,000+ in the dark. But not everyone had a whole five minutes to take shelter. “I ran down to grab my daughter from her room as our windows were shattering,” Whitney Babb, a resident near 10th and Monroe, tells me. I found Whitney hugging her best friend and next-door neighbor Meg Wilmur, only able to tell their stories through tears. “We had zero alert,” Meg adds. “I only woke up when a tree crashed into our yard.”

Trampoline in tree after Nashville tornado

A trampoline ends up in a tree in an East Nashville backyard. Image: Lenore Kinder

After the cells devastated East Nashville and turned toward Mount Juliet, first responders, officials and brave volunteers scrambled to set up emergency shelters amid the rubble. Streaks of lightning, wailing sirens and the stench of leaking natural gas lingered in eerie cotton candy-pink skies until sunrise. Once the sun rose, I rolled over from a restless few hours of sleep and immediately saw a shift in Nashville from crisis to recovery. A barrage of texts and calls flooded Nashville and seeped through its fibers. Information on relief efforts spread virally. People woke up and got moving. Neighbors began knocking on doors to check on other families. “It was truly incredible,” Meg says. “By 2:30 a.m., all our neighbors were out in the yard checking on everyone. Tree services were in the area, and Nashville Public Works arrived within minutes,” she says.

Tornado destruction

This shows a house torn in half, but also the creepily lit up sky that followed the storm. Image: Robert Wallace

RELATED: This is Nashville: How Local Businesses Are Helping Out with Tornado 2020

Once people began to safely emerge from their homes — and the mainstream media picked up the story — it became very evident just how devastating this tornado really was. “As I walked through Germantown this morning, I was immediately struck by the strong sense of community,” a fellow member of my StyleBlueprint team Bailey Torkelson — my Germantown neighbor — tells me. “Neighbors were not just assessing the damage to the area, but also checking in on strangers and friends alike. Today, it feels like we are all one working together.”

I spoke to some who slept through the night and some whose homes were ripped to shreds. Each story was different, but here is what I know to be true: the death toll is rising, Nashville is completely filled with debris, churches have crumbled, powerlines and trees unearthed, hundreds of businesses closed or destroyed, and thousands of residents are suddenly homeless. What we’ve proven time and time again, however, is that no natural disaster — however powerful and mighty — can ever destroy the unmitigated fortitude and sense of all-in-this-together love that Nashville exudes every day, tornado or not.

TO FIND WAYS TO HELP NASHVILLE’S TORNADO RELIEF, CLICK HERE.

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