NASHVILLE – Tornadoes killed at least 22 people, including several children, and destroyed at least 140 buildings in Tennessee as severe storms erupted in the state late Monday and early Tuesday morning, as part of a sprawling system which threatened more severe weather conditions from Texas to North Carolina.
Earlier, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said that “several people” were missing and that many were injured. The governor, who declared a state of emergency for Tennessee, did not provide precise figures on the injured or missing, but noted that 30 rescuers had been injured.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Lee at a press conference Tuesday morning. “We have lost lives across the state. This morning, four different counties had confirmed deaths. “
Lee said he was in touch with the White House “to ask for help”.
President Donald Trump tweeted support Tuesday morning: “Pray for all those affected by the devastating tornadoes in Tennessee. We will continue to follow developments. The federal government is with you throughout this difficult time . “
The president said he would travel to Tennessee on Friday to tour the damage.
The disaster had an impact on voting in Tennessee, one of 14 states on Super Tuesday. Some polling stations in Nashville have been relocated, and sites across Davidson and Wilson counties opened an hour late but still closed at the same time, Secretary of State Tre Hargett announced.
The Nashville tornado “appeared to be quite large, although storm readings were taken Tuesday to determine the official intensity of the storm,” said AccuWeather.
A preliminary investigation indicated that the tornado was an EF-3 on the Fujita scale, which means that there were winds of about 160 mph.
The tornado was the third to cross downtown Nashville. Previous tornadoes tore the city apart in 1933 and 1998, the National Weather Service said.
In Putnam County, the number of deaths increased to 16, while three deaths were confirmed in Wilson County, two in Davidson County (where Nashville is located) and one in Benton County.
Several children have been reported among the dead in Putnam County, which includes the town of Cookeville. “This is an absolutely tragic and devastating day for our city and our county,” said Rickeville Shelton Mayor of Cookeville.
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The extent of the storm’s physical damage was shocking.
At least 48 structures have collapsed around Nashville, according to the Nashville Fire Department. In addition, windows were blown and power lines were torn down in an area that stretched from the Germantown neighborhood, north of downtown, in the Five Points area of East Nashville and more than 30 kilometers is at Mount Juliet.
Having an Smirnoff Ice Cream Around 8:00 am Tuesday, Nashville resident Domonique Hodge remembered hearing the roof come off 14th Avenue. North duplex earlier in the morning.
“It’s the roof right there,” said Hodge, pointing to a huge pile of shingles and roofing material in the front yard.
He climbed into the closet, caught off guard by what was going on around him.
Another woman who lives in the house was sitting on a folding chair by the roadside, holding a baby wrapped in a blanket. “What is there to say?” the woman responded, looking numb, when approached by a reporter.
There was a tornado warning in effect when the tornado hit Nashville, according to Weather Channel meteorologist Greg Diamond, who tweeted that “the heart of Nashville was approximately 5 to 10 minutes early between the time of the warning was issued and the time the tornado struck. “
Officials rushed to open emergency shelters around the metropolitan area as sirens continued to moan and the smell of natural gas persisted in the air.
Nashville Electric tweeted that four of its substations were damaged by the tornado. Power outages affected more than 47,000 customers Tuesday morning, the utility said.
In East Nashville, Main Street was closed after the storm and covered with half-fallen trees and other debris.
Part of a building had collapsed on Fifth Street and Main Street.
Residents of Stacks On Main, near the Nissan stadium, reported that their windows were shattered in strong winds, sending shards of glass throughout their apartment, as well as minor flooding.
Buildings in the area have experienced power outages. The apartment complexes off Main Street had siding, concrete slabs and other building materials torn from the structures.
The storm also caused damage in Wilson County.
Emergency personnel at Mount Juliet continue to assess the damage, said Tyler Chandler, spokesperson for the Mount Juliet Police Department.
Gas lines are leaking and power lines are down, Chandler said.
“We have missing people, several houses have been razed to the ground, so at the moment we are trying to create a command post,” said Count of Putnam sheriff Eddie Farris.
The sheriff said all of his assistants were working, going from house to house to check on residents while county and state teams were working to clean up roads of debris and fallen power lines.
Tuesday was the U.S. deadliest day for tornadoes since 23 people died in Alabama exactly a year ago, March 3, 2019, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
AccuWeather said isolated tornadoes, damaging winds and flash floods will be possible in the southern United States until Thursday as severe storms occur in the region.
Contribution: Nashville Tennessean and Associated Press staff. Rice has been reported from McLean, Virginia.