COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Thursday marks six months since one of the deadliest tornadoes hit Tennessee, killing 24 people and causing more than a billion and a half dollars in damage.
The road to recovery has been long, but residents in the hard-hit Putnam County say they have a whole new outlook on life.
One of those residents is 75-year-old Joyce Wilson who had just moved to Cookeville from Florida two months before the EF-4 tornado hit.
“I could hear this loud engine noise and I thought, ‘Uh oh I don’t know,’ and then all of a sudden, it approached coming at me and I could hear it getting louder and louder and I said ‘Oh dear God, this is the real thing,'” Wilson recalled the traumatizing night to News 2.
She said she ran to yell to her son upstairs, but within seconds the stairs flew off the house.
“The next thing I remember, I was lodged under the house and I was crooked in it, I couldn’t turn my head, but I did have this part of my hand free…so I wedged it up, and it was only up to my wrist that you could see. And I was terrified down there ’cause I couldn’t get up,” Wilson described.
Little did she know, she had several broken ribs and a broken pelvis.
As thunder, lightning, and rain continued, her son held on to her hand, and a police officer who lived nearby was able to hold on to her foot, Wilson said she asked them not to leave her until help came.
“I really thought my life was coming to an end,” she explained.
It was hours before emergency crews could get through the debris into the neighborhood.
“They found a door and they laid me on that door and they carried me through the field over to this gray house and they knocked on the door and asked if they would let us come in,” said Wilson.
Several people were taken to that house to wait for ambulances.
“The worst tragedy to hit out county in modern history with the EF-4 tornado,” Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter told News 2 Thursday, “We had about 700 homes damaged, a hundred people injured that had to be taken to the hospital and then 19 lives that were lost.”
Wilson spent more than a week in the hospital, but she would soon be back.
“Right before I left the hospital, the doctors came in and gave me news, they said they found something…” said Wilson.
They had found a large mass in her chest that needed to be surgically removed.
“The bottom problem with this is, it will get so big it will strangle your heart and I’ll die that way,” she said, “But if the tornado never came, I would’ve never known it was there.”
Wilson had the mass removed and also had one other surgery for falling and breaking her nose.
Her dogs also went missing in the tornado. One was found at the local animal rescue, and the other was just a puppy found two days later in his crate that had barely survived in the debris.
Wilson and her son returned to the lot she originally lived on off Echo Valley to inquire about rebuilding but found it is only zoned for a two-story home, which she said she can never live in again.
A local contractor traded her lots and is helping her build a one-story home down the street. She said she’s looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas in it.
“For God to bring us through this and then to bring me through this,” she said pointing to the land her home once stood and then her chest, “I just feel like we’re walking miracles, and I can’t express to people, it’s a new look on life, and you just, you just feel so blessed.”