Members of the roofing industry were among the first to respond to the deadly tornadoes that struck Nashville earlier this week in a big way.

Commercial and residential roofing companies with operations in and surrounding Nashville reported being extremely busy with storm damage response in the aftermath of the tornadoes that struck as part of a powerful storm system early Tuesday morning. Twenty-five people were killed, hundreds were displaced and nearly 50,000 residents lost power in the intense storm.

The National Weather Service estimated the swath of devastation from the EF-3-rated tornado that touched down in Nashville stretched roughly 50 miles. Homes, businesses, schools and some of the area’s popular attractions were destroyed or severely damaged. In nearby Cookeville, another tornado with estimated wind speeds exceeding 175 mph struck shortly after. Official damage estimates were not available at the time of publication.

“The storm was a pretty bad one. We’ve had storms before but this was probably the worst in a while,” said Tim Leeper, president of Nashville-based Tim Leeper Roofing. “I’m surprised more people didn’t end up losing their lives based on how much of the storm went through heavily populated areas. We are very blessed that it was not much worse.”

Pulling Together

Officials with Crane Renovation Group, the Ohio-based parent company of Mr. Roof, said they were also thankful that the tornado struck after work hours at their Hermitage, Tenn., branch just east of Nashville. The building the company leased since establishing the branch in 2010 sustained heavy damage in the storm and is considered a hazardous zone.

The tornado tore through the roof, toppled multiple work trucks and other vehicles, and left the interior offices in virtual ruins. It’s unclear when, or even if, the building will reopen.

In the meantime, the branch’s 15 employees have been hard at work responding to customers from the nearby offices of Contractors Inc., a division of the Crane Renovation Group that serves property managers, commercial real estate owners and business owners. The company just announced a realignment between the two entities last month.

“We are very fortunate that we have a Contractors Inc. location just five miles away, and they immediately allowed our Mr. Roof team get to work servicing our customers in need,” said Jim Ziminski, president of the Crane Renovation Group.

Other Mr. Roof branches helped in multiple ways in the aftermath, including the shipment of three pallets of tarps from Atlanta, added Ziminski, who plans to travel to the area next week to assess the situation. The company also offered to match any donations to local relief operations made by its employees.

“I’m really proud of how our people have responded to this situation and exemplified some of our core values like going beyond to help our customers and to give back to the community,” he said.

Don Kennedy, founder and CEO of Don Kennedy Roofing headquartered in Nashville, said his employees were all safe, and very busy “trying to help people who are helping people.” Neighbors were pulling together to remove downed trees, clear rubbish, and do temporary repairs to make homes and buildings safe.

Michelle Boykin, COO of Nashville-based Rackley Roofing Co., said all their employees were safe and that just one reported minimal damage to their home. Crews have been busy checking on existing clients and responding to new requests given the scope of the devastation.

“We, of course, are busy doing what we can to get buildings back to normal as soon as possible right now,” Boykin said. “As far as community support, prayers and donations are probably the best way (to help).”

Jeff Richfield, owner of Music City Roofers in Nashville, was thankful that the tornadoes missed his company’s headquarters and his own home, but still felt overwhelmed when driving around and surveying the damage.

“It was like the apocalypse,” Richfield said. “R-panels off in the street tangled up like butter – it’s the power of nature.”

One of Richfield’s own workers in nearby Mt. Juliet had their home completely demolished by the tornado, but Music City Roofers reported the worker and his wife escaped harm. Employees assisted the couple by getting them to a shelter.

Richfield, through Roofers United — an organization dedicated to establishing the roofing industry as a community of honest professionals — coordinated a free storm workshop on March 6 to ensure contractors had the right tools and practices to provide services to clients.

“We live here, this is our town. There are a lot of outsiders, so we just want to make sure things are done right,” Richfield said.

He said about 100 people were expected to show up for the event to learn about scaling up for dealing with the aftermath of a tornado. Companies involved in the workshop included Storm Ventures Group, CompanyCam and Art of the Supplement.

“We’re going to mobilize teams from across the country,” Richfield said. “There’s a lot of things moving fast, so the industry is coming to help.”

How to Help

Local authorities and relief organizations are still assessing the short-and long-term needs of the Nashville community, but there are ways people can help now. GAF was among four companies that immediately pledged support for Good360, a nonprofit with a mission to transform lives by providing hope, dignity, and a sense of renewed possibility to individuals, families, and communities impacted by disasters or other challenging life circumstances. Two truckloads filled with much-needed supplies like toiletries, gloves, dust masks, Tyvek suits, first aid kits and diapers were dispatched within 48 hours of the storm.

"We are thankful to our corporate partners for their quick response, and we look forward to collaborating with additional companies to increase our impact in Tennessee," said Jim Alvey, director of partnerships, Disaster Recovery.

Ziminski said his company partnered with Operation BBQ, which was deployed to Nashville shortly after the tornadoes to help feed those in need — including those displaced and those helping to clean up the devastation. 

The generosity and determination to push through the difficult recovery ahead isn’t new to Tennesseans, Leeper noted.

“We are also lucky to live in a state that has so many volunteers and people willing to help their neighbors and friends,” he said. “Nashville has been through some pretty rough storms and bad times before this and we will make it through this one too.”

Other recommended ways to get involved with tornado relief operations:

RC Editorial Director Rick Damato and Managing Editor Chris Gray contributed to this report.