Tornadoes killed at least 21 people in Tennessee as violent storms roared through the state late Monday and early Tuesday morning, part of a sprawling system that threatened more severe weather all the way from Texas to North Carolina.
A powerful and deadly storm moving through Middle Tennessee spawned a tornado that touched down in Nashville early Tuesday morning, cutting a swath of destruction that stretched through the city for miles.
Earlier, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee had said “a number of people” are missing and many are injured. The governor, who declared a state of emergency for Tennessee, did not provide specific counts on injured or unaccounted-for individuals but noted that 30 rescue workers have suffered injuries.
“It is heartbreaking,” Lee said at a news conference Tuesday morning. “We have had loss of life all across the state. Four different counties, as of this morning, had confirmed fatalities.”
Lee said he was in touch with the White House “to ask for assistance.”
President Donald Trump tweeted his support Tuesday morning: “Prayers for all of those affected by the devastating tornadoes in Tennessee. We will continue to monitor the developments. The Federal Government is with you all of the way during this difficult time.”
The president said that he will travel to Tennessee on Friday to tour the damage.
The disaster impacted voting in Tennessee, one of 14 Super Tuesday states. Some polling sites in Nashville were moved, and sites across Davidson and Wilson counties were opening an hour late but still closing at the same time, Secretary of State Tre Hargett announced.
The Nashville tornado “appeared to be quite large, although storm surveys will be conducted on Tuesday to determine the official intensity of the storm,” AccuWeather said.
The tornado was the third to tear through downtown Nashville. Previous twisters had ripped through the city in 1933 and 1998, the National Weather Service said.
In Putnam County, the number of deaths have risen to 16, while two deaths have been confirmed in Wilson County, two in Davidson County (where Nashville is located), and one person in Benton County.
The extent of the storm’s physical damage was jarring, even before the sun rose Tuesday morning.
At least 48 structures collapsed around Nashville, according to the Nashville Fire Department. In addition, windows were blown out and power lines were torn down in an area that stretched from the Germantown neighborhood, north of downtown, into the Five Points area of East Nashville and more than 20 miles to the east in Mount Juliet.
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 had approximately a 5-10 minute lead time from when warning was issued to when tornado hit.”
Officials scrambled to open emergency shelters around the metro area as sirens continued to wail and the smell of natural gas lingered in the air.
Nashville Electric tweeted that four of its substations were damaged in the tornado. Power outages were affecting more than 47,000 customers Tuesday morning, the utility company said.
In East Nashville, Main Street was closed following the storm and covered in half-fallen trees and other debris.
Part of a building had collapsed onto the road at Fifth Street and Main Street.
Residents of Stacks On Main, near Nissan Stadium, reported their windows burst during the heavy winds, sending glass shards throughout their apartment, as well as minor flooding.
Buildings in the area suffered power outages. Apartment complexes located off Main Street had siding, slabs of concrete and other building materials ripped from structures.
The storm also caused damage in Wilson County.
In Mount Juliet, emergency personnel are continuing to assess the damage, said Tyler Chandler, spokesman for the Mount Juliet Police Department.
Gas lines are leaking and power lines are down, Chandler said.
“We have people missing, there are several homes flattened, so right now we are trying to establish a command post,” Putnam Count Sheriff Eddie Farris said.
The sheriff said all of his deputies are out working, going house to house to check on residents as county and state crews work to clear roads of debris and fallen power lines.
Tuesday was the USA’s deadliest day for tornadoes since 23 people died in Alabama exactly one year ago, on March 3, 2019, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
AccuWeather said that isolated tornadoes, damaging winds and flash flooding will be possible across the southern U.S. through Thursday as severe storms track over the region.