Clarksville families rebound after devastating tornado


The mobile home sitting close to the end of Center Road in north Clarksville was home to the Ware family for more than 30 years.

A place that hosted birthday parties, Christmas Eve celebrations and where Teresa Johnson got to watch her children and grandchildren grow. But in the blink of an eye Saturday afternoon on Dec. 9, the home and sense of stability disappeared when an EF-3 tornado ripped through Clarksville.Eric Ware, 16, moved in with Johnson, his grandmother, about three years ago. His brother, Isaiah, moved in a few months ago. Spending more time than not there as children, it didn’t take long for them to make it home again.

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Eric Ware (left) and brother Isaiah survey damage of the home they share with their grandmother in Clarksville, Tenn. on Dec. 13, 2023.Eric Ware (left) and brother Isaiah survey damage of the home they share with their grandmother in Clarksville, Tenn. on Dec. 13, 2023.

Eric Ware (left) and brother Isaiah survey damage of the home they share with their grandmother in Clarksville, Tenn. on Dec. 13, 2023.

Ware graduated from Penn Foster online school. He spends his weekdays working and helping his brother and grandmother with household chores and responsibilities.

His plans that Saturday, were to relax at home. It was supposed to be his first weekend home in about three weeks, and he wanted to take care of things such as washing his clothes and cleaning his room.

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Eric Ware, 16, surveys the tornado damage of the home he shares with his grandmother and brother in Clarksville, Tenn. on Dec. 13, 2023.Eric Ware, 16, surveys the tornado damage of the home he shares with his grandmother and brother in Clarksville, Tenn. on Dec. 13, 2023.

Eric Ware, 16, surveys the tornado damage of the home he shares with his grandmother and brother in Clarksville, Tenn. on Dec. 13, 2023.

When he mentioned washing clothes to his grandmother last week, she warned him against it with the weather expected to be bad.

“Every time it rains, she says ‘You know the washer doesn’t work right in the storm’,” Ware said laughing a little, looking at what used to be his room. “She was right this time; it was something big.”

Ware ignored his grandmother’s advice and was washing clothes when he got a call to come into work, leaving the house immediately.

A call his family is more than grateful for.

The home of Teresa Johnson she shares with her grandsons was damaged in the tornado in Clarksville Dec. 9. The home sit in disrepair on Dec. 13, 2023.The home of Teresa Johnson she shares with her grandsons was damaged in the tornado in Clarksville Dec. 9. The home sit in disrepair on Dec. 13, 2023.

The home of Teresa Johnson she shares with her grandsons was damaged in the tornado in Clarksville Dec. 9. The home sit in disrepair on Dec. 13, 2023.

During the storm, a tree was uprooted from the ground, falling directly onto what was Ware’s bedroom, destroying what was once his oasis.

Stepping close to the wreckage, a broom and dustpan can be seen buried under the rubble of what used to be his room.

Ware’s aunt, Felicia Valadez, was on her way home when she looked to her left and saw the tornado. After realizing it was too fast and too close for her to keep driving, she pulled over behind a store until it was safe to drive.

Her home, located just up the street from her mother’s was safe. But she received word from her husband that her mother’s house was gone.

She knew her mom and Eric’s older brother, Isaiah, were safe at Walmart, but no one had heard from Eric yet.

“I was just scared for him,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I knew where my mom and other nephew were, but I hadn’t heard from him. And his whole room was under a tree.”

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Felicia Valadez talks about losing her mobile home in the tornado in Clarksville as she goes back to salvage items at the scene on Dec. 13, 2023.Felicia Valadez talks about losing her mobile home in the tornado in Clarksville as she goes back to salvage items at the scene on Dec. 13, 2023.

Felicia Valadez talks about losing her mobile home in the tornado in Clarksville as she goes back to salvage items at the scene on Dec. 13, 2023.

Things can be replaced

Once the family got in contact with Ware, the relief was evident before breaking the news to him of their destroyed home.

When he first received the call that the house was destroyed, he thought his family was exaggerating, it’s stormed before and the damage couldn’t possibly be as bad as he was being told.

When Ware returned to his home Saturday night, he was shocked.

“I was just like what am I going to call home now,” Ware said.

Damaged homes are seen on Jackie Lorraine Dr. in Clarksville, Tenn., Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. Tornadoes struck Middle Tennessee on Saturday, killing at least six people and leaving more than 160,000 Middle Tennessee residents without power.Damaged homes are seen on Jackie Lorraine Dr. in Clarksville, Tenn., Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. Tornadoes struck Middle Tennessee on Saturday, killing at least six people and leaving more than 160,000 Middle Tennessee residents without power.

Damaged homes are seen on Jackie Lorraine Dr. in Clarksville, Tenn., Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. Tornadoes struck Middle Tennessee on Saturday, killing at least six people and leaving more than 160,000 Middle Tennessee residents without power.

Ware created a hole in the back of the trailer that he climbed through to get his Bible off his bed, just one item important to him that he could salvage.

“I’m grateful to just be alive,” Ware said. “This is stuff, and it’s replaceable, but we aren’t.”

Damaged homes along Cabana Drive in Clarksville, Tenn., Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. Tornadoes struck Middle Tennessee on Saturday, killing at least six people and leaving more than 160,000 Middle Tennessee residents without power.Damaged homes along Cabana Drive in Clarksville, Tenn., Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. Tornadoes struck Middle Tennessee on Saturday, killing at least six people and leaving more than 160,000 Middle Tennessee residents without power.

Damaged homes along Cabana Drive in Clarksville, Tenn., Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. Tornadoes struck Middle Tennessee on Saturday, killing at least six people and leaving more than 160,000 Middle Tennessee residents without power.

Volunteering amid tragedy

Since the tornado, Ware and his family have been staying at a hotel. During the day, Ware spends his time at Mosaic Church, a community tornado relief hub, volunteering wherever he can such as cleaning debris in neighborhoods or distributing supplies to those in need.

“Even though my house is like this,” Ware said gesturing to his home. “I’ve seen a lot of others who don’t have anything left. There’s always someone worse than me, and I want to do what I can to help them.”

Ware’s decision to help instead of sitting around has not been a surprise to those who know him.

“That’s who he is,” Valadez said. “He would give the shirt off of his back if he could.”

“He has always been someone with a huge energetic and loving presence whom people gravitate towards,” said Aron Maberry of Mosaic Church, who’s known Ware since he was 10. “When he was in fifth grade he began to serve in our parking lot ministry and first-time guests would weekly tell us that their interactions with him and his brother were such a positive highlight that it made them want to continue to come to the church.

“Our pastor often speaks about handing Mosaic Church off to the next generation and the staff always says — he has to be talking about Eric — he’ll be our pastor one day.”

An aerial view of a Clarksville, Tenn., neighborhood from a Blackhawk helicopter on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023 after a series of tornadoes swept through Tennessee the day prior, leaving thousands of homes damaged and at least 6 people killed.An aerial view of a Clarksville, Tenn., neighborhood from a Blackhawk helicopter on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023 after a series of tornadoes swept through Tennessee the day prior, leaving thousands of homes damaged and at least 6 people killed.

An aerial view of a Clarksville, Tenn., neighborhood from a Blackhawk helicopter on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023 after a series of tornadoes swept through Tennessee the day prior, leaving thousands of homes damaged and at least 6 people killed.

Eric Ware reflected on times spent at the home with his family.

“My favorite memory has to be Christmas Eves over here,” Ware said smiling at the memories. “All the cousins come over, and we eat, play games and open gifts with each other. I just love getting to be around my family.”

The family is now looking to start over, which is not an easy feat for his grandmother who is over the age of 60, on a fixed income and has health issues.

“My mom has lived here for more than 30 years and now has nowhere to go,” Valadez said.

“I know miracles can happen, but if I could just snap my finger, the house would be right here and she wouldn’t have to worry about any of this.”

Grace Williams stopped by Mosaic Church to pick up dinner for her family on Dec. 13, 2023. She said it's a nice break being able to talk to people at the church after her home was badly damaged by the EF-3 tornado that swept through north Clarksville on Dec. 9, 2023.Grace Williams stopped by Mosaic Church to pick up dinner for her family on Dec. 13, 2023. She said it's a nice break being able to talk to people at the church after her home was badly damaged by the EF-3 tornado that swept through north Clarksville on Dec. 9, 2023.

Grace Williams stopped by Mosaic Church to pick up dinner for her family on Dec. 13, 2023. She said it’s a nice break being able to talk to people at the church after her home was badly damaged by the EF-3 tornado that swept through north Clarksville on Dec. 9, 2023.

‘This could have been the end’

Saturday afternoon started as a normal day for Grace Williams, she‘d just finished with a client, her children were upstairs and her electrician was leaving.

Earlier that day, Williams had just had pictures printed to decorate the walls of the home they moved into four months prior. She was about to hang the photos on the walls when her family received the Tornado Warning alerts on their phones.

Immediately, Williams and her two children ran under the stairs where their prayer room is located.

Prayers and Bible scriptures that Williams has written decorated the walls, giving them the perfect place to focus on praying as a family as the unmistakable loud winds of the tornado rummaged through their house.

In that room, her family sat praying until they knew it was safe to come out.

“We all walked out and thanked God that we made it out,” Williams said.

Then, Williams and her children went to check on her neighbors.

Just a few houses down were the fatalities from the tornado.

One of those was Donna Allen, who was visiting her family from Florida. Nurses in the area tried to help, and neighbors stood crying and praying until an ambulance arrived, Williams said. The other two fatalities in Clarksville include Arlan Coty, 10, and Stephen Hayes, 34.

“I’m praying for all of those families, I can’t imagine the difficulty they are going through right now,” Williams said.

For the first couple of days, Williams was in shock of what happened, trying to find normalcy in any way she could. She went back to work as a real estate agent, trying to find houses for those who needed them after the storm. She went shopping at stores for clothing, food and other supplies her family needed, despite multiple places being open for those displaced and affected by the storms, not wanting to take the items away from others.

While out shopping with her friend, her friend asked her to please allow her to care for them.

“It took my son saying ‘Mom, we are the people that need help’ for me to realize the situation,” Williams said.

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Picking up the pieces

Since then, she’s been to Mosaic Church for the meals and has allowed her friend to buy her some necessities.

Although Williams and her family are safe, staying at an Airbnb, the unexpected trauma of living through a tornado is a constant reminder.

“We don’t sleep anymore,” Williams said. “Every little noise we hear, we’re up to make sure everything’s okay.”

Since Saturday, Williams has returned to her home a couple of times, each trip more emotional when she thinks that it could’ve been the end.

“My story could’ve been over, I could’ve easily died in that storm, my kids could have been hurt,” Williams said getting emotional. “But we’re not. I wake up every morning and thank God for that.”

This article originally appeared on Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle: Clarksville families rebound after almost losing everything in tornado



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