February 5th, 2008 began like any other day, with the exception of the unseasonably warm temperatures. It was “Super Tuesday” and the thoughts of many were on the upcoming election, rather than the weather. However, as the night went on, weather reports from around the state rapidly deteriorated and it became apparent that this would be no typical thunderstorm. Just after 10 P.M. local time, a tornado touched down southwest of Castalian Springs in Sumner County. The EF3 tornado tore through Sumner and Trousdale County before crossing into Macon County. Winds from the storm gusted up to 180 miles per hour on that Tuesday night.
As the day began on the 6th, so did rescue and clean-up efforts. Three hundred of the almost 1,000 homes, trailers, and businesses in the storm’s path were destroyed, as well as three churches. Sixty-three homes suffered severe structural damage and fifty-four were deemed uninhabitable. Early estimates put the number of households rendered homeless by the storm at 257. The tornado completely destroyed the Columbia Gulf natural gas facility in the Green Grove community, causing an orange glow in the sky, visible to almost everyone in the county. Thirteen Macon County citizens were confirmed dead and around 70 were seriously injured.
As rescue and clean-up efforts continued on Wednesday, a 6 P.M. to 6 A.M. curfew was put into effect and strictly enforced. However, a county-wide power outage caused many residents who were not directly affected to seek shelter elsewhere for a short period of time. Power was restored to most areas in Lafayette and Red Boiling Springs by 8 P.M. Wednesday night. Schools in the county were closed for the remainder of the week, as well as the next week. They reopened on Tuesday, February 19th. Wednesday evening also saw more than 200 citizens still unaccounted for.
On Friday, February 8th, then President George W. Bush flew over the storm ravaged area before landing at the airport and seeing the damage from the ground. President Bush, former Governor Phil Bredesen, Senator Lamar Alexander, Senator Bob Corker, and former Congressman Bart Gordon visited the Lafayette Fire Hall to speak with county officials and Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives. President Bush also traveled to Akersville Road and the Williams Community to meet with residents affected by the storm.
By Saturday, all 200 of the citizens that were unaccounted for had been located and efforts turned entirely to clean-up and rebuilding. President Bush had previously declared Macon, as well as Sumner County, to be disaster areas. This allowed residents to be eligible for federal aid through FEMA. Individual assistance provided help with the cost of home repairs, replacing and cleaning household items and appliances, and other storm-related expenses.
Volunteers from around the county and the country turned out in the weeks following the storm to assist in clean-up efforts. Around 785 people signed up to help with the Virginia-based Operation Blessing International. The National Guard also assisted with some of the heavier clean-up. In addition to helping with clean-up, volunteers prepared meals for other volunteers and those affected by the devastating storm. One volunteer who helped to prepare meals, LaRue Polston, found a bit of positivity in the tragedy, “Something truly amazing that has come from this terrible tragedy is the wonderful unity of all the denominations,” Polston said.