A tornado leveled his house but not his spirit

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April 10, 2009, to most people was the beginning of Easter weekend, but for Art Fuller it was a day he will never forget.

The day started out like any other Friday, but by mid-day the clouds started shifting and began to darken.

Severe weather alerts were popping up on employees' computers and the Giant Voice was warning of lightning within a 10-mile radius. Before anyone knew what was going on the siren went off and everyone went down to their storm shelter.

"I was talking to my wife Debra who had just gotten home from being in town and all of a sudden the phone just went dead," Fuller said. "I just figured we got cut off. My son called back a few minutes later and said 'Dad the house is about gone.' I asked him what was he talking about and he said the house was almost destroyed."

At first Fuller thought his son was joking with him so he asked to speak to his wife.

"She said yes there was a tornado," Fuller said. 

Fortunately, neither Fuller's son nor wife was seriously injured. Fuller lives in Murfreesboro and takes the vanpool to work every day and wasn't sure how to get to his family.

"A stay-in-school, Laura Sellars, offered me a ride because she goes to school at MTSU [Middle Tennessee State University]," Fuller said. "When I got to Murfreesboro my wife had called and said they had taken her to the hospital to be treated for anxiety."

The EF-4 tornado created its path of destruction just off I-24 around the newly built Avenue shopping complex. Fuller's house was just across the interstate in a subdivision. After a couple of hours at the hospital, Fuller was finally able to go home and see the damage.

"Well just getting there and seeing it I just said to myself 'ah man,'" he said. "And then I began to think how blessed I was that everyone was OK and how much worse it could have been."

Debra had gone to Wal-Mart and was on her way home but decided to stop and get something to eat for lunch.

"She wasn't paying attention to the weather and when she got home she went upstairs," he said. "She got upstairs and all of a sudden she heard something that sounded like a train - my wife had always been told while living in Oklahoma, when you hear something that sounds like a train, it's probably a tornado - so the first thing she did was run into the master bathroom."

Fuller said the upstairs had two bathrooms back-to-back and each one had a closet on the side of it. There were total of three bedrooms on the top floor.

"She got inside the bathroom and closed the door," he said. "I remember her telling me the wind was so strong she had her body up against the commode and pushing the door closed with her feet."

Fuller said after a while Debra saw some light and came out to find that the top part of the house had caved in around her - all that was left was where she was hiding. The bedrooms had caved in and there was nothing supporting the remaining bathrooms and closet. With everything practically gone and nowhere to go, Fuller had to find a place to stay until the situation could be handled.

They rented an apartment while their new house was being built. They moved into their new house Thanksgiving weekend. The biggest thing Fuller will take from this experience is to become more aware of the weather.

"Normally when weather happens most people just take it for granted and we've had tornadoes in Murfreesboro before but usually its north of us or just down south," he said.

Fuller credits the grace of God and Mother Nature for saving his family's lives.

"One thing I guess that sort of helped was we had a lot of trees in the front yard, maybe 10 or so, and when the tornado came through just about all those trees were gone," he said. "Only by the grace of God and those trees it didn't take the top of the house off."

A week after the tornado, according to the Rutherford County Emergency Management Agency, seven people in Rutherford County had critical injuries; about 818 homes were damaged, with 111 of those homes completely destroyed. Two-hundred ninety homes had major damage and 164 had minor damage.

Two-hundred thirty-five more homes were directly affected in some way from the tornados. The estimated cost to businesses and residents was placed at $40.2 million. The National Weather Service reported the tornado tore a 23.5-mile path through Murfreesboro and packed winds as high as 165 mph.

The width of the storm was a half-mile and it was on the ground for 36 minutes. According to Walker, tornadoes can occur year-round in Tennessee with peak months being April, May and June - April being the peak primary month. Walker said November also ranks high for annual tornado activity.