Tennessee tornadoes strike nearly to the day of 2021 deadly storm

2 mins read
A child sits on a downed pole outside a destroyed home in Clarksville, Tenn., Dec. 10, 2023, a day after a tornado swept through the town. (OSV News photo/Kevin Wurm, Reuters)

OWENSBORO, Ky. (OSV News) — Two years ago over the course of a Friday night Dec. 10-11, a series of tornadoes struck western Kentucky, killing 57 with additional fatalities in Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri and damaging and destroying several thousand residences as well as nearly 200 commercial buildings.

Just one day before area residents officially observed the outbreak’s second anniversary, tornadoes ripped through middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky inflicting another weather disaster Dec. 9 just weeks before Christmas.

Catholic schools and parishes preserved

Although no Catholic schools or parishes suffered storm damage, six people were killed in Clarksville, Tennessee, and other communities were devastated as well.

Laura Miller, faith formation director and office assistant at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and School in Clarksville, Tennessee, told OSV News that “north Clarksville is pretty torn up, with a curfew in effect the past two days, and streets closed by the city to enable clean up of storm debris.”

Miller was attending an afternoon funeral Dec. 9 and vigil Mass afterward at the church, which has 800 registered families.

Debris surrounds homes in Clarksville, Tenn., Dec. 10, 2023, after a tornado swept through the town. Tennessee officials are assessing the damage after tornadoes and strong thunderstorms roared across the state Dec. 9, leaving at least six people dead, dozens injured, multiple buildings destroyed and power outages. (OSV News photo/Seth Herald, Reuters)

“The first round of storms hit Clarksville around 1 or 2 p.m., but all we got here (at the church) was rain, and around 4 p.m. the area south of Clarksville got a second round of activity,” she said.

At Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in nearby Hendersonville, Tennessee, communications coordinator Jennifer Harris told OSV News “the tornado struck here around 4:45 p.m. as we were celebrating Mass, and we had to shelter in place.”

“There was no damage to our church, and we are about two miles away from Clarksville with 2,600 registered families in the parish,” she said.

Remembering past storms

Father Ryan Harpole, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Bowling Green, Kentucky, reflected on their own experience coming through the deadly 2021 tornadoes.

“Bowling Green has gotten back on its feet (since the storms) with houses being rebuilt and so on, and it would be hard today to find any evidence of where the tornado went through town,” Father Harpole said.

“One couple from our parish used their insurance money to move away (as several other families did), and they sent us a letter of thanks and apology, saying that it (moving) was an easy decision to make,” Father Harpole said.

Emotionally, Father Harpole said, “we have adapted quite well and people have moved on, and if anything came out of this it is a message that says there is hope in the future.”

Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro did not attend this year’s observance, but did issue a special statement of reflection for the remembrance noting both how the December 2021 tornadoes “permanently changed our communities” and how the Catholic Church showed “its fast and generous response to those who suffered.”

“Together we continue to rebuild and to heal and I am grateful to all who continue to assist with recovery efforts,” he said, adding, “I am thankful in particular for the leadership of our Catholic Charities team, which works with survivors as they keep moving forward.”

Robert Alan Glover

Robert Alan Glover writes for OSV News from central Kentucky.