Tennessee tornadoes: Death climbs to at least 24

NASHVILLE, Tenn.  — According to the Associated Press, rescuers searched through shattered Tennessee neighborhoods for bodies Tuesday, less than a day after tornadoes ripped across Nashville and other parts of the state as families slept. At least 24 people were killed, some in their beds, authorities said. The twisters that struck in the hours after midnight shredded more than 140 buildings and buried people in piles of rubble and wrecked basements. The storms moved so quickly that many people in their path could not flee to safer areas. “It hit so fast, a lot of folks didn’t have time to take shelter,” Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter said. “Many of these folks were sleeping.” The governor declared an emergency and sent the National Guard to help with search-and-rescue efforts. State emergency officials, who initially reported at least 25 dead, revised the toll to 24 fatalities on Tuesday evening after determining one death counted earlier was not storm-related. An unspecified number of people were missing. Early findings by National Weather Service survey teams indicated that the damage in Nashville and Wilson County to the east was inflicted by a tornado of at least EF-3 intensity, the agency said. One twister wrecked homes and businesses across a 10-mile (16 kilometer) stretch of Nashville that included parts of downtown. It smashed more than three dozen buildings, including destroying the tower and stained glass of a historic church. Another tornado damaged more than 100 structures along a 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) path of destruction in Putnam County, wiping some homes from their foundations and depositing the wreckage far away. Daybreak revealed landscapes littered with blown-down walls and roofs, snapped power lines and huge broken trees, making many city streets and rural roads impassable. More than a dozen polling stations were also damaged, forcing Super Tuesday voters to wait in long lines at alternative sites. In Putnam County, 80 miles (some 130 kilometers) east of Nashville, houses and businesses were completely flattened. In one neighborhood, volunteers found five bodies. Neighbors and sheriff’s officers were still looking for two more. Later, authorities imposed an 8 p.m.-8 a.m. curfew in the county and reported one looting arrest. Nashville residents walked around on streets and sidewalks littered with debris, in neighborhoods where missing walls and roofs left living rooms and kitchens exposed. Mangled power lines and broken trees came to rest on cars, streets and piles of rubble. “We are resilient and we’re going to rebuild,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper said. During Gov. Bill Lee’s tour of Putnam County, homeowners dug through debris, trying to salvage any items not destroyed. One young woman held up a clean green blouse while standing on a second floor of a home that had no roof. President Donald Trump spoke with the governor by phone and pledged federal assistance, the White House said. Trump also announced plans to visit the disaster area on Friday. In Nashville, the twister’s path was mostly north and east of the heart of downtown, sparing many of the city’s biggest tourism draws — the honky tonks of Broadway, the Grand Ole Opry House, the storied Ryman Auditorium and the convention center. Instead, the storm tore through the largely African American areas of Bordeaux and North Nashville as well as neighborhoods transformed by a recent building boom. Germantown and East Nashville are two of the city’s trendiest hotspots, with restaurants, music venues, high-end apartment complexes and rising home prices threatening to drive out longtime residents. With more than a dozen Super Tuesday polling places in Nashville’s Davidson County damaged, voters were sent to other locations, some of them with long lines. Election officials in Putnam County advised voters in eight precincts with damaged polling locations to vote at the main election office in Cookeville. Hours later, a judge ruled that some Tennessee polls must extend voting hours after four Democratic presidential candidates sued to keep the polls open, a Democratic Party spokesperson said. Lee said he observed numerous examples of people coming together to help one another. “In the worst of circumstances, the best of people comes out, and that’s what we’re seeing,” he said. Just as the governor stopped by to tour the devastation in Putnam County, a van of longtime customers at a local eatery — who proudly stated they ate there every morning — arrived to help clean.