Survivors of 1999 EF-4 tornado look back

JACKSON, Tenn. — Survivors of a 1999 EF-4 tornado relive the tragic disaster.

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“One minute you got a house, the next minute you don’t,” homeowner Richard McCabe said.

It was as a stormy Sunday evening on Jan. 17, 1999 in east Jackson. Homeowners Bobby Dial and Richard McCabe are neighbors in the Orchard Hill subdivision. That evening, they say even though severe weather conditions were expected, the atmosphere outside was very unusual.

“The sky had a weird, green tint to it,” Dial said.

“It got real warm outside, real warm, and the air was so thick you couldn’t even breath,” McCabe said.

Both men say they heard news of a tornado coming towards Jackson. To see if that was true, they both took a look outside.

“I opened the front door and the lightning flashed. I saw it hitting three houses away from us,” Dial said.

“I was out on the deck right there, and I saw this black, ugly cloud, and then it started getting closer and closer,” McCabe said.

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That black cloud was an EF-4 tornado, and it was coming straight their way.

“I hovered down in here with my previous wife and my stepson,” McCabe said.

“But when it actually hit, it sounded like a thousand sledge hammers just tearing the house apart,” Dial said.

“People say you hear a train. It’s like a 747 above your house,” McCabe said.

“The house started lifting and dropping, and the wall went against the other wall and covered us up and protected us,” Dial said.

McCabe says the tornado maybe lasted 10 to 15 minutes. In that amount of time it wiped out most of the houses in the area.

“That house was gone, that house was gone, everything was gone,” McCabe said.

21 years later, many of the houses were rebuilt, but only two homeowners from the 1999 tornado remain.

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“It’s kind of like the Twilight Zone, the movie Twilight Zone, you know? Like that,” McCabe said. “One minute you got a house, the next minute you don’t.”

That day not only took a homeowner’s dream, but the life of several loved ones. Six people died in Madison County, according to the National Weather Service.

Four of the six who died lived in Orchard Hill subdivision.

One person who died went to East Trinity United Methodist Church under the leadership of former Pastor Sky McCracken, who was also a volunteer firefighter for the county at the time.

“I did their funeral. I got to go to the hospital when I left here. His wife had surgery, and when she came out of surgery, I informed her that her husband had passed away,” McCracken said.

Walking back through the subdivision, McCracken reflects on what he saw Jan. 17, 1999.

“Nice place for a family to live, but it sure looks better than it did 21 years ago,” he said.

One homeowner says if another tornado were to come through his neighborhood he would relocate.

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