Samantha Barclay was asleep in bed when her entire apartment started shaking.
A deadly tornado was ripping through her neighbourhood but she didn’t know that yet. All she knew was this was no regular storm. She leapt out of bed and hunkered down in her bathroom.
“All I kept on saying to myself was, you know, ‘The roof, the roof, please, the roof has got to stay on. Just the roof has got to stay on,'” Barclay told As It Happens host Carol Off. 
The roof did stay on, at least in her part of the building, and she was able to get to safety. She’s one of the lucky ones.
Tornadoes ripped across Tennessee as families slept early Tuesday, shredding more than 140 buildings and burying people in piles of rubble. At least 22 people were killed, many of them before they could even get out of bed, authorities said.
People were scared. It was just really, you know, just trying to comfort everybody.
– Samantha Barclay 
Barclay says she was planning her next move when the rattling stilled. 
“Finally, it got quiet and then I heard my neighbours running through the hallways and banging, trying to find out if everybody was OK,” she said.
She grabbed a pair of pants from her bedside, her cellphone and a pair of slippers and made her way outside.
Even then, she says it still hadn’t sunk in what was happening. She’d recently had knee replacement surgery and was just concentrating on getting down the stairs from her third-storey apartment without injuring herself.
It was only when she got outside that she realized the scale of the damage.
“The roof on the other side of the apartment had been completely ripped off. The windows were blown through. And the wiring was coming down,” she said.
“And then when I was able to leave the complex itself  … that’s when I could see more damage to other apartments in the area, close to the bridge where some of the government offices had also been taken out.”
One tornado wrecked homes and businesses across a 16-kilometre stretch of downtown Nashville, ripping apart more than three dozen buildings.
Another tornado damaged more than 100 structures along a 3.2-kilometre path of destruction in Putnam County, wiping some homes from their foundations and depositing the wreckage far away.
Schools, courts, transit lines, an airport and the state capitol were closed. More than a dozen polling stations were also damaged, forcing Super Tuesday voters to wait in long lines at alternative sites.
In her Jefferson Street neighbourhood, Barclay says people banded together to care for each other in the immediate aftermath of the tornado checking on vulnerable residents, fetching clothes for those who had to flee without warning.
“People were scared,” she said. “It was just really, you know, just trying to comfort everybody and just trying to assess what has really happened to us and what was going to be the next thing that we would all have to do.”
Barclay made her way to an emergency shelter site, and is now staying with a friend. The damage to her building means she can never go home. Her landlord suspended her lease.
“This is now becoming more realistic to me that, you know, yes, I’ve been in a tornado. I’ve been in this disaster and I’m going to have to find someplace to live,” she said. “It’s slowly sinking in.”
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Samantha Barclay produced by Morgan Passi and Kate Cornick.