One decade ago Monday, tornadoes ripped through the Mid-South, claiming lives and causing short and long-term pain. The so-called ‘Super Tuesday’ tornadoes ripped through Shelby County, killing three people and injuring more than a dozen others.
Winds of at least 110 miles per hour toppled roofs, tossed tractor trailers, and damaged a power substation. One of the hardest hit areas in Memphis was Hickory Hill.
Neighbors in one subdivision off Hickory Hill Road lost power for more than a week, and some homes deemed total losses were torn up and bulldozed, leaving behind empty lots. City leaders also claim the tornado as a major factor in accelerating the area’s economic decline.
“That was my first time ever experiencing the real deal,” says witness Mario Ledlow. “People say it sounds like a train wreck but to actually experience it is something different.”
On February 5, 2008, Ledlow look stepped outside, saw what appeared to be a funnel cloud, and ran inside where he and family members braced for impact in a bathtub.
“All of us who could fit in there, and it literally sounded like a train ran through the living room,” says Ledlow.
Pictures document the aftermath of a confirmed EF-2 tornado with winds between 111 and 135 miles per hour.
“It was like a mini war zone, trees all in the street, cars damaged,” says Ledlow.
“It was a very scary moment when I got off work because I didn’t realize it had been over in this area,” says Joe Calvin.
Across town, the massive storm also had weather forecasters worried.
“We had some real concerns that it was going to be a very dangerous situation,” says Scott McNeil with the National Weather Service.
The radar showed dangerous weather activity from one end of the Mid-South to the Tennessee River, prompting the National Weather Service’s Memphis office to issue a tornado emergency.
“You are thinking of your family, but your ultimate mission is keeping everyone safe,” says Jonathan Howell with NWS.
The dire warnings that day were justified. Separate tornadoes ripped through Shelby County, killing three people at the DSC Logistics Warehouse.
Eventually crews restored power, yards were cleaned, and roofs were repaired, but other damaged areas of Hickory Hill didn’t bounce back then and haven’t since.
“It’s probably untold amount of money that has been lost or forfeited because of the storm,” says Former Memphis City Council member Harold Collins.
Collins represented the Hickory Hill area on the Memphis City Council in 2008. After Hickory Ridge Mall suffered millions of dollars in damages, Collins blamed store owners for using an out in their leases to bolt, leaving the shopping center a shell of its former self to this day.
“It’s disappointing when they seem to think that they didn’t want to work just as hard as the city leadership did to try and get those stores up and running and continuing in that community,” says Collins. “The damage was done, those stores took advantage of the situation in my opinion, decided to uproot themselves and leave.”
A MLGW spokesperson said crews are more aggressive in trimming trees and improving the system’s response times since the 2008 tornadoes.
National Weather Service forecasters said much has changed in the last decade to better alert the public of impending tornadoes, including smart phones and social media.
The 2008 Super Tuesday tornadoes killed more than 60 people across the southeast.