Salem native living in Nashville describes aftermath of tornado

Published: Mar. 3, 2020 at 7:09 PM CST
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At least two dozen people have been confirmed dead after a tornado touched down in Tennessee Tuesday morning, impacting multiple communities, including parts of Nashville.

Salem, Iowa native and 'The Voice' alum Cali Wilson and fiancee Gracie Harris, a Nashville native, live in Nashville not far from where at least one tornado touched down.

Both are safe but said their hearts go out to everyone impacted by this tragedy.

The couple said an alert came across their phones at approximately 12:35 a.m.

“We were watching the news on my phone to we heard them screaming we’ve spotted a tornado take cover,” Harris said.

Wilson and Harris quickly grabbed their dog and went into the basement, where they stayed for just over an hour.

“It was pretty much the first time I’ve seen the destruction something like this can do to a city,” Wilson said, “I’ve obviously seen it in rural areas being from Iowa, but I’ve never seen it firsthand.”

Harris said, "I was heartbroken when I saw the images. I think it's the healthcare profession and the human in me, the I need to get out there and start doing something type-of-thing."

Wilson explained, “something like this is not an everyday thing. You don't know where it is because you can't see outside, so when we opened the door it was just like a wall of water and I just knew it was gonna be really bad weather.”

A tornado touched down in Cookeville, which Harris describes as “a really small rural college town.”

“I think that's where the highest death toll is right now,” Harris said.

“It’s just such a rural area, I don’t know if necessarily people had the means of knowing the tornado was headed towards them or if people had the time to cover or if they even had media access to know that it was that severe,” Harris told TV6.

In East Nashville, the Basement East was destroyed by the tornado, but a mural still stands – one of the only parts of the building left.

Wilson said, “that particular building is the Basement East, which is one of the most famous venues here in Nashville for live music. I've seen a few of my closest friends play there. There's concerts there every single week. People were there during the storm. I've thought of playing there and dreamed of playing there myself.” She said, “People were actually there, employees were there and some were actually trapped, but in the end everyone was okay thank goodness. That was probably one of the powerful images I've ever seen in my life. That whole building was pretty much destroyed except for that mural.”

The mural reads, “I believe in Nashville.”

Harris said the mural was painted in 2012, two years after deadly flooding impacted the city.

“That first mural was painted in that popular area of 12 South in 2012 after the Nashville floods of 2010 and someone came up with the idea and painted the mural to signify the unity of the city and to show the resilience the city had during the flood,” said Harris.

The cleanup process is now underway as the community rallies together as one.

Harris said, “I have friends that live in other suburbs of Nashville that had a tree fall on his house and had a tree in his living room. He and his neighbors were digging other neighbors out in the middle of the night.”

According to Wilson, “they're cleaning up right now. They've been cleaning up since the storm ended. It's that fast and people work together here like I've never seen it."

The message of Nashville, like its people, remains strong. Wilson said, “Tennessee is the Volunteer State and I think people take that to heart when it comes to things like this. I'm very proud to be a Nashvillian now, and Iowa will always be home, but this city has welcomed me with open arms.”

Harris agrees, and she said, “This may have ripped our city apart, but the people are gonna stand together.”

Wilson said there are many organizations working to help people recover. She and Harris plan to help in any way they can.

For people out of state who aren’t able to volunteer in person, Wilson said those interested could even consider looking into clothing companies creating apparel, where 100 percent of proceeds will go toward disaster relief. One of those companies is

based in Nashville.