‘How did we make it?’ Cookeville residents remark on surviving EF-4 tornado

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COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Two days after an EF-4 tornado tore through Putnam County, residents were piling up debris and picking up what was salvageable.

The tornado hit Cookeville around 2 a.m. on Tuesday, traveling on the ground for about 10 minutes, according to local officials.

Bethany Ragsdale saw her former home for the first time on Thursday since the storm.

She lived in Echo Valley Estates, one of the neighborhoods with the worst damage.

Ragsdale said she got a call from one of her friends warning her that the storm was heading her way.

She said that she almost ignored the call and was very grateful she didn’t. She said her family might not have survived if she missed that warning.

Ragsdale said that she and her family immediately ran downstairs into a closet for safety.

“We heard the noise of the freight train everybody talks about and made it to our pantry, closed the door. As soon as we closed the door, everything just started flying off,” Ragsdale said.

She was holding on to two of her sons while her husband held onto their one-year-old daughter.

Then it got worse.

“I was staring at my husband’s eyes and I saw stuff just flying around in my peripheral vision and the next thing I know, like the pantry door that was blocking us flew off and then my husband was ripped out of my arms,” Ragsdale said.

Then, it was over.

After the tornado disappeared, she emerged from the rubble and found her husband and daughter alive. Their one-year-old girl was still in his arms, but with a broken leg.

She glanced around the rest of the neighborhood, wondering if anyone else survived.

Other neighbors started to emerge and she said they all started helping each other.

She couldn’t believe her family survived. Her home was no longer on its foundation.

Her family, like many others, were left with nothing. Their vehicles were destroyed along with the home.

She was able to grab some toys for her children.

She lost her wedding ring, which was in a jewelry box on her dresser.

Even though they lost everything, Ragsdale was feeling very grateful.

“With all of this, and all the travesty that had happened, it doesn’t matter. I mean, it does, but we have our family and that’s all we need,” she said.

Somewhat of a consolation to losing her wedding ring, Ragsdale found her wedding dress.

She found it on Thursday, which happened to be her and her husband’s 9th wedding anniversary.

Another woman a mile down the road was also counting her blessings, even though she hadn’t been able to find one of her pets.

Linda Clemons thought she was prepared after hearing the tornado warning on her phone.

She grabbed some extra clothes and her three animals, then headed down to the safest spot in her home.

Shortly after sitting down though, she found out it’s hard to be prepared and safe when an EF-4 tornado blows through.

Clemons said she heard what sounded like a freight train heading towards her home and then felt strong wind gusting through her home.

“Pulled me off of the step, I mean, and that’s when the animals went, is when, during that pull I couldn’t hold onto them. I couldn’t, I mean, they just, you know, they can’t believe it. You gotta hold of them and they just pulled them and they were just gone,” Clemons said.

She was able to find her dog and one of her cats, but her 8-year-old brown tabby was still missing.

Clemons home was severely damaged; half of her roof was gone and part of her garage door wrapped around a tree; but most of it was still standing.

By Thursday, she was amazed at all the cleanup volunteers and crews had already completed.

“You just wouldn’t believe the difference between right now and Tuesday morning. There were about 4,500 people who came through yesterday picking up trash, cutting down trees, hauling up stuff. This road was impassible until they came through and did all that. It’s just, Putnam County is, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for,” Clemons said.

More than 1,000 Putnam County residents were still without power Thursday, according to local officials, but crews were working non-stop to repair power lines.

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