Malia Marcella & Tré Hardin
Malia and Tré are Nashville residents. Tré works for the city of Nashville and Malia works for local nonprofit, Nashville Teacher Residency. On the night of the Tornado they were at their home on the top floor of a four story apartment building on East Nashville’s Main St.
Q: When the tornado hit Were you already awake, did it wake you up?
Tré: We were asleep when the tornado hit. Neither of us heard the sirens nor the NWS alert on my phone.
Malia: My phone was in a bag of rice because it had gotten wet earlier that day. We also had no idea of the possibility of a tornado and didn’t know to keep our eyes on it. The wind and thunder is what woke us up. At that point the tornado was already upon us.
Q: What was going through your mind when it hit? Can you describe what it was like?
Malia: It was so loud. We weren’t sure what was going on and were out of it from just waking up. Then we noticed the window by our bed was bowing inward and the noises getting louder and louder, that’s when we realized something was really wrong. We rolled off the bed and covered our heads.
Tré: From there we crawled into a walk-in closet that leads to a bathroom. An attic entry panel in the closet imploded and hit me on the head.
Malia: The whole apartment was shaking. Insulation was spinning around us and rain water was pouring in the apartment. We were covered in wet and sticky debris.
Q: As soon as it was over, what did you do?
Tré: Because everything happened so quickly, we were really just running on pure adrenaline. Everything was a mess and we knew we needed to get out of the apartment. We quickly changed from pajamas to normal daytime clothes (with limited success).
Malia: I could only find my fluffy slippers. It was hard to see anything without power and with the dust and insulation in the air. We still weren’t sure what had happened. It was chas and then suddenly everything was so quiet after the storm passed. That’s when the apartment fire alarms went off. Tré tried to get outside but our door wouldn’t open because of the structural damage from the tornado. In the dark, I looked closely and realized that if I pushed really hard into the door, I was able to get the deadbolt to turn.
Tré: Yeah, she’s the one who figured out how to get us out. Once we got out the door we saw how bad it really was. We had to climb over and duck under debris the whole way down to the ground floor. It was like an obstacle course. All of the cars in our parking lot were destroyed. Other residents were coming out too. People were crying and panicked. My parents live in town. We called them and they came out to pick us up. We spent the rest of the night at their house.
Malia: Looking back it just strikes us at how normal that night was before the tornado. It was a typical Monday. We had been watching Netflix and weren’t sure if we should watch another episode, so we asked Alexa what time it was. The voice said it was 11:08pm. So we turned off the TV and decided to go to sleep. The next thing we knew, everything had changed.
Q: Did you sleep again that night? What were the next few days like?
Tré: We didn’t sleep the rest of the night. All we could do was watch the news coverage. The next morning, we came back to try to get some of our stuff out of the house - just essential things. We made one trip up, then they closed the building because of how dangerous it was.
Q: The next morning as neighbors got out of the homes to survey the damage, did you meet neighbors you didn’t already know?
Malia: As we ran into neighbors the following days, we mostly spoke the shared experience we had all had (and were still having). Most of us were just trying to figure out what to do next.
Q: Volunteers jumped right into action. How soon after the tornado hit did you have people there to help?
Tré: The Red Cross set up a station here, but we didn’t have a lot of outside volunteers. There wasn’t a lot we could do to start cleanup or repairs because we were all renters of the apartment. However, when they finally allowed us back into the apartment to get our belongings, we called all of our friends and family in town and a small army showed up with 4 or 5 vehicles. It was the fastest move we’ve ever experienced. We did an assembly line and moved everything out so quickly.
Malia: We left large pieces of furniture but if it could be salvaged, it was. We were extremely grateful to everyone who helped to make it as quick and as easy on us as possible.
Q: Was there anything that stood out to you about the volunteers?
Malia: The follow up with the Red Cross was amazing. They reached out to us multiple times to see how we were. Their partner organizations also followed up with us multiple times. That was really cool. I haven’t lived in Nashville my whole life, but I’ve been here long enough to see how special this community is and how beautiful it was to see the city come together after the tornado to help each other.
Tré: I remember that Edly’s BBQ across the street was serving up free food to neighbors and volunteers. That was very kind of them.
Q: After the dust settled, what were some of the major changes in your life due to the tornado?
Tré: Nothing has been the same since. It feels like since that night nothing has settled. I mean, we went directly into Covid-19 right after the tornado. We missed a lot of work just trying to get back on our feet and as soon as we moved into a new place our work shifted us to work at home, which we’re still doing. It’s like the tornado just kicked off a huge life change and we’re still in it.
Malia: Something that’s changed for me is how permanent I think things are in life. I mean, if these trees can be pulled out of the ground, trees that have been there for decades, how easily can things in my life be turned upside down in a single night? There’s something to say about how a traumatic event can rip away your sense of sureness and stability in life.
Q: Now that we’re months past the event, what are some challenges you’re still dealing with?
Tré: I still don’t feel grounded yet. I mean, we have a new place and I’m extremely grateful for that, but I just don’t feel settled yet. It’s kinda like mourning a part of life that was suddenly taken away. I haven’t fully processed it.
Malia: I feel the same way. Think of the word home and the normality that word holds. When you lose your home, you lose more than the place, but also the meaning of it and the routines of it. Even though our new place is an upgrade in some ways, we really miss what used to be our home.
Q: What are some things you’re thankful for that the tornado revealed?
Malia: It really made me count my blessings in a way that I really haven’t before. When all of our family and friends showed up to help us move our stuff out, it reminded me of how important those relationships are. It was really eye opening to me. A lot of people struggle with feelings of loneliness, but there really are so many people who love us and are there for us. This tragedy helped me see that more clearly.
Tré: Like Malia said, I’m so thankful for our support system. Not everyone has that, at least to the extent that we do, and our friends and family really came through for us and showed us how much we mean to them. I’m also thankful that none of our neighbors were injured. In our complex we all walked away from this with our lives and health.
Q: What’s something you're hopeful for and/or what’s next for you?
Malia: We made it out with but a scratch and a bruise. This has really made us more aware of how much we can be thankful for. I hope to hold on to this sense of gratitude, to really sit in it and approach all things in my life with that perspective as much as possible. Immediately after the tornado, and now still, there’s a sense that I have something to be grateful for, even in the midst of all the troubling and hard things happening in the world right now. I want to hold on to this.
Tré: Something I really want to see if a full recovery for this city. Growing up here and even working for the city, I know this town and understand how it works. Right now there are still a lot of signs of the destruction. I have a lot of pride in Nashville and even though Covid-19 has slowed our recovery efforts, I believe we’ll come back even better.