Anita Wadhwani and Doyle Rice
USA TODAY NETWORK
Published 9:09 PM EST Mar 3, 2020
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tornadoes killed at least 24 people, including several children, and shredded at least 140 buildings as violent storms roared through the state early Tuesday, part of a sprawling system that threatened more severe weather this week all the way from Texas to North Carolina.
Tuesday was the USA’s deadliest day for tornadoes since March 2, 2012, when 40 people died in twisters that hit portions of the Midwest and South. Twenty-three people died in Alabama exactly one year ago, on March 3, 2019, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
A powerful and deadly storm moving through the middle of Tennessee spawned a tornado that touched down in Nashville early Tuesday morning, cutting a swath of destruction that stretched through the city for miles.
Gov. Bill Lee said “a number of people” were missing and many were injured. The governor, who declared a state of emergency, said 30 rescue workers suffered injuries. The number of dead has been difficult for officials to keep up with, and on Tuesday night, they revised the death toll from 25 to 24 after authorities said they miscounted one fatality that was later determined to be not storm-related.
“It is heartbreaking,” Lee said at a news conference. “We have had loss of life all across the state. Four different counties, as of this morning, had confirmed fatalities.”
More: Mapping the toll of Tuesday’s storms and tornadoes in Nashville
The latest: What we know about the tornadoes that killed at least 25
Lee said he was in touch with the White House “to ask for assistance.” A number of missing people remained unaccounted for by early evening.
Schools, courts, transit lines and an airport were closed.
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 he will travel to Tennessee on Friday to tour the damage.
Isolated tornadoes, damaging winds and flash flooding are possible across the southern USA through Thursday, Accuweather said.
The disaster affected voting in Tennessee, one of 14 Super Tuesday states. Some polling sites in Nashville were moved, and sites across Davidson and Wilson counties opened an hour late but closed at the scheduled time, Secretary of State Tre Hargett said.
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.
A preliminary survey indicated the tornado just east of Nashville was an EF-3 on the Fujita Scale, meaning it had winds of about 160 mph.
The tornado was the third to tear through downtown Nashville. Twisters ripped through the city in 1933 and 1998, the National Weather Service said.
In Putnam County, the number of deaths rose to 16. Three deaths were confirmed in Wilson County, two in Davidson County (where Nashville is) and one in Benton County.
Several children were 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 county,” Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton said.
Get tornado updates: Get USA TODAY’s Daily Briefing in your inbox
The extent of the storm’s physical damage was jarring.
At least 48 structures collapsed around Nashville, according to the Fire Department. 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.
Drinking a Smirnoff Ice around 8 a.m. Tuesday, Nashville resident Domonique Hodge said he heard the roof come off his duplex that morning.
“That’s the roof right there,” Hodge said, pointing to a massive pile of shingles and roofing material in the front yard.
He got in the closet, caught off guard by what was going on outside.
A tornado warning was in effect when the storm hit, 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 wailed and the smell of natural gas lingered.
Nashville Electric tweeted that four of its substations were damaged in the tornado. Power outages affected more than 47,000 customers Tuesday morning, the utility company said.
In east Nashville, Main Street was closed after the storm and covered in half-fallen trees and other debris.
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterBecome a founding member
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.
Apartment complexes off Main Street had siding, slabs of concrete and other material ripped away.
The storm also caused damage in Wilson County.
Emergency personnel assessed the damage, said Tyler Chandler, spokesman for the Mount Juliet Police Department.
Gas lines leaked and power lines were down, Chandler said.
“We have people missing, there are several homes flattened, so right now we are trying to establish a command post,” Putnam County Sheriff Eddie Farris said.
The sheriff said all of his deputies were going house to house to check on residents as county and state crews worked to clear roads of debris and fallen power lines.
Contributing: Nashville Tennessean staff and The Associated Press. Rice reported from McLean, Virginia.
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe