BHS grad recounts experience in Nashville tornado; now faces pandemic

“In moments of panic, I find myself making a plan. I’m very quick to want to problem solve," Rebecca Wig said. "...I considered my options. I can stay here and wait it out or I could try to leave, but the whole neighborhood where I live there were power lines down, trees down. I don't know how some of the people who left got out honestly. So I decided to just wait.”

Tornado 1
This is a look at one of the stairwells where the roof was torn off an apartment in Germantown, northwest of Nashville. The tornado hit Nashville March 3 destroying many homes and buildings and killing 24 people., including this apartment where a Brainerd High School graduate lived. Submitted Photo

A 2015 Brainerd High School graduate is grateful to be alive after surviving a tornado that killed 24 people in Nashville.

Then while picking up the pieces, the coronavirus pandemic struck the nation, leaving her unemployed.

Rebecca Wig, the daughter of Jeffrey and Laurie Wig of Brainerd, moved to Nashville after high school to attend Belmont University, where she earned a business degree with an emphasis in the music industry in 2019.

Wig moved to an apartment on the second floor of a historic neighborhood called Germantown in northwest Nashville, about a month before a tornado hit East Nashville the night of March 3, destroying many homes and buildings and killing 24 people. Wig had just ended her shift as a server at Otaku Ramen, a traditional American ramen shop, about 10:30 p.m. that night when the tornado came through.

“I read the news and they said we were going to be getting some thunderstorms that night, which wasn’t too irregular for Nashville,” Wig said in a telephone interview from her Nashville apartment. “We get a lot of rain here, so I wasn’t super surprised by that. I wasn’t worried about it.”


Tornado 2 (promo)
This is the view out of Rebecca Wig's apartment window of a section of her building's roof - trusses and all - deposited on a neighbor's shed and a car in Germantown. Submitted Photo

Wig was still awake about 12:30 a.m. watching TV, winding down from work, when all of a sudden her lights began flickering.

“I heard the rain pick up a bit and I figured, OK, you know, power outage, thunderstorm, not a big deal,” Wig said. “But I looked outside my window, just to see kind of what was going on and the wind had picked up a huge amount and the trees were blowing like crazy. And then suddenly, I started to see those little electrical boxes on the power lines start to just kind of explode. ... From my window, I was able to see that parts of the roof were falling off and onto the cars in the parking lot below. There was a huge section of the membrane of the roof that came off and landed on my neighbor's fence and on their cars.”

Wig said the smoke alarms in the apartment complex started to go off and she knew she should get away from the window. She said she never received a text alert from the weather service and didn’t hear any tornado sirens, so she had no idea it was a tornado, until “it became very obvious,” she said. Wig poked her head to look down the hallway and noticed the other tenants were doing the same thing.

“We had no procedure for this,” Wig said. “We had no idea what we were supposed to do. So a little group of us kind of got together, and we were just strategizing trying to think about what we should do, where to go next. And we decided to get low and away from the windows. We started walking over to the staircase, on the one side of the building to try to go downstairs and I opened the door and it was just pouring water all the way down the stairs and I couldn't tell if it was rain water or if the pipes had burst. The staircase was entirely inaccessible, so we went over to the other side of the building, and that staircase was fine. So we got downstairs and it was basically just me and all of my neighbors kind of standing in the parking garage waiting and not really sure what to do.”

Wig said some neighbors left and she “got a little freaked out” and called some friends, who had no idea what was happening as they lived south of where the storm hit. The storm destroyed several buildings in Germantown and then became stronger and moved east hitting Mt. Juliet, just east of Nashville. The National Weather Service reported it was an EF-3 tornado that tore through a neighborhood in Mt. Juliet.

Wig said close to half her neighbors had to move out of the apartment because of the damages, but she was lucky and got to stay in her unit.


The BHS graduate said the feelings she experienced with the storm in Nashville reminded her of the storm that hit July 12, 2015, back home in the Brainerd lakes area. That summer storm produced winds compared to a Category 2 hurricane and hit neighborhoods along Crow Wing County Road 115 and Cinosam Road between Gull Lake and Round and North Long lakes, as well as affecting areas of See Gull Road, Cinosam, Legionville and Love Lake roads.

“My family has a home on Hartley Lake and we had like six or seven trees down on the house,” Wig said, noting they lost about 70 trees total. “There were trees down in the yard and all over the driveway.

“In moments of panic, I find myself making a plan. I’m very quick to want to problem solve. So after the (Nashville) storm, I considered my options. I can stay here and wait it out or I could try to leave, but the whole neighborhood where I live there were power lines down, trees down. I don't know how some of the people who left got out honestly. So I decided to just wait.”

As Wig sat in her apartment and the storm passed, she called her parents for advice. Her father booked a flight right away and was at her doorstep that afternoon.

Tornado 3
Jeffrey Wig hugs his daughter Rebecca Wig before she got on the plane at Brainerd to fly back to Nashville on her last visit home after Christmas. Submitted Photo

“You immediately know when you get that call at 1:30 in the morning that she's not going to call us unless it's deadly serious,” Jeffrey Wig said of his daughter’s call. His wife was next to him and also listened to the conversation. “She told us the story about how the storm had gone through. ... I knew immediately that I had to go there and I booked a 7 a.m. flight out of the Brainerd airport.

“I was thinking we were going to have to move her out of her apartment. I rented a truck ... a storage unit and a hotel. Coming into Nashville, you could see the damage from the air as we flew in. It was a long path, something like 40 miles long. It really makes your heart skip a beat or two when you see that.”


The Wigs began packing up her stuff to move it to a temporary place. However, they later found out from the apartment manager that they were going to close the building for a couple of days to access the damage, but she could keep her stuff in the unit. After the damage assessment, about 60% of the people were able to stay in their apartment units.

“She was really lucky,” Jeffrey Wig said of his daughter. “She was able to get back into her apartment within two and a half days.

“I had to admit to her before I left that she really didn’t need me in the end. She could have stayed with a friend for a couple of days. We didn’t have to move much out of her apartment. It was only by the grace of God that you know ... she had actually thought about taking one of the apartments on the third floor, the top floor that had the roof directly ripped off of them. And luckily, she ended up taking this other one (on the second floor).”

Tornado 5
Jeffrey Wig and his daughter Rebecca Wig take a selfie in front of the "Bean" sculpture in Chicago during an earlier visit. Submitted Photo

Wig said as a father he was worried about her security, but said she is strong.

“She's really resilient,” Wig said of his daughter. “She's fiercely independent just like you want your kids to be. ... In the end, the way things turned out, she didn't really need me at all but maybe for a little extra emotional support, but nothing much else. If that tornado would have gone 60 feet in her direction. It could have been a whole different story.”

Now Rebecca Wig is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic like everyone is. She lost her job March 15 as a server.


“The week leading up to that date was difficult as a few of my co-workers began to quarantine,” Wig said. “They began not coming to work and we had to kind of refine our operation to how many people were willing to come in and after a while they just made the call to shut down entirely.

“It was a really tough month for Nashville. It was around that time of the tornado when we started to take precautions for COVID-19, like having more hand sanitizer stations everywhere and just spraying everything down like crazy.”

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.

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