Nashville, TN – An off-duty Nashville police officer whose home was trashed by the devastating tornado that touched down in the city helped save the lives of an elderly couple trapped beneath the rubble of their toppled house.
Off-duty Nashville Police Officer Tyler Manivong and three other first responders spent nearly an hour digging their way to the trapped couple using their bare hands, the Tennessean reported.
When the storm hit, 26-year-old officer and his 24-year-old wife, Sabrina, managed to make their way into the safety of their basement.
Upstairs, windows exploded and a portion of their roof was torn off. Framed photos were shaken off of the walls and shattered on the floor.
Just minutes later, the violent tornado had passed.
Although their home was severely damaged, Officer Manivong and his wife were physically safe.
But as they looked outside, they realized that not everyone had been so fortunate.
“We looked outside, looked at each other and said, ‘We gotta go!’” Officer Manivong told the Tennessean.
He grabbed his flashlight and police radio and made his way out onto the street to check on area residents.
Minutes later, a call came across the radio requesting help for Bill and Shirley Wallace, who were trapped in the basement of their residence beneath the rubble that had been their home.
The elderly couple had made their way into the basement as the storm was approaching, the Tennessean reported.
But just minutes later, the power cut out and a roar surged around them.
“I can vouch,” Bill Wallace later told the Tennessean. “It sounds like a train.”
As their home tumbled down, a cabinet fell onto them, knocking them to the floor.
The Wallaces later admitted that they had accepted the fact that they would likely die, the Tennessean reported.
“It was kind of calming laying there together,” Bill Wallace recalled.
When the tornado moved on about a minute later, he began crawling around the three-foot-tall area of space that had been their basement and managed to find a flashlight.
Meanwhile, water and gas from broken pipes spewed into the small space, the Tennessean reported.
Up above them, Officer Manivong, fellow off-duty Nashville Police Officer Nate Larson, Wilson County Constable Jacob Austin and other first responders were frantically working to free them from the rubble.
“I didn’t think someone could be alive with the condition of that house,” Constable Austin said.
But when he called out to them, he heard a faint voice below that replied “we’re in here,” the Tennessean reported.
The officers worked quickly and strategically to remove the debris without crashing through into what remained of the basement.
“It was like a huge game of Jenga,” Officer Manivong explained.
He was relieved when he finally made eye contact with the trapped couple.
“I’m Tyler,” he told them, according to the Tennessean. “I’m one of your neighbors, and I didn’t want to meet like this.”
Officer Larson crawled inside the hole and pulled Shirley Wallace out of the wreckage.
“She latched onto my neck and wouldn’t let go,” he told the Tennessean.
Amazingly, the couple suffered only bruises and cuts during the terrifying ordeal.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” Bill Wallace’s son, Billy, said of the officers’ heroic actions. “To be thinking of others at that time is kind of unfathomable.”
Officer Manivong said that it “feels good” to know that the Wallaces have referred to him and his fellow officers as “heroes,” but that do everything possible to save others “doesn’t deserve acknowledgement” and “should be second nature,” the Tennessean reported.
At least 24 people were killed during the violent storm, which struck during the early morning hours of March 3, according to USA Today.
Five of the victims were children under the age of 13.
The National Weather Service confirmed that the catastrophic losses were caused by two separate tornadoes.
The one that struck Nashville and Wilson Counties was an EF-3, while the one that hit Putnam County was an EF-4 with winds as high as 175 miles per hour, USA Today reported.