At least 22 killed as powerful tornadoes rip through Tennessee

Some 48 buildings destroyed and many more damaged in state capital, Nashville


At least 22 people were killed on Tuesday when a series of powerful tornadoes ripped through Nashville and other parts of Tennessee, flattening buildings and leaving tens of thousands of people without electricity, authorities said.

The death toll, provided by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, may rise given the number of people who remain missing statewide, governor William Lee said at a news briefing.

Rescue teams were going door to door, searching damaged structures for trapped or injured individuals, the Nashville Fire Department said.

At least 30 people were injured in Nashville, the state capital, and about 48 buildings were destroyed, with many more damaged, fire department director Chief William Swann said.

US president Donald Trump, speaking to a gathering of county leaders in Washington, said he would visit Tennessee on Friday. “Prayers for all of those affected by the devastating tornadoes in Tennessee,” Mr Trump said in a Twitter post.

Tennessee is one 14 states that holding primary elections on Super Tuesday. Despite the widespread destruction, polling sites at schools and elsewhere will remain open for voting unless otherwise noted, officials said.

“We want people to exercise their rights and get out there and vote,” Mr Lee, the governor, said.

Lightning lit up the darkened sky as the storm rumbled through central Nashville, video posted on Twitter showed. At daybreak, video footage on local television revealed levelled houses and crumbled businesses in Nashville, a city of 691,000.

‘Growling sound’

John Partipilo, a photographer who lives in east Nashville, about five blocks from the main area damaged, hid in an interior bathroom with his dog Lucille as the tornado went over his home.

“It was like this big rushing thing ... then it got real quiet,” said Mr Partipilo. “It was like a train sound, hard to explain – a growling sound.”

Women view damage at the Basement East music venue after a tornado touched down in Nashville, Tennessee, US. Photograph: Harrison McClary/Reuters
Women view damage at the Basement East music venue after a tornado touched down in Nashville, Tennessee, US. Photograph: Harrison McClary/Reuters

Crushed vehicles, piles of debris and broken power lines littered the streets, which were blocked by rescue vehicles as residents carried away belongings from their ravaged homes.

Charlotte Cooper, a French teacher at a Nashville school, said she felt lucky a twister had skipped over her house, which suffered cracked windows and a downed fence. “It’s like a war zone,” she said as she surveyed the damage around her neighborhood.

The police department in the Mt Juliet suburb east of Nashville reported multiple homes damaged and people injured.

“This was obviously a very strong tornado,” Mt Juliet police captain Tyler Chandler said in a video posted on Facebook. “We need your help. And that means if you can stay at your house, please stay home.”

Officials urged residents of Nashville to avoid travel, especially through the damaged areas.

Apart from the public buildings set to be used for polling, schools, district offices and courts will stay closed on Tuesday due to the tornado damage throughout Nashville, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country.

Grand Ole Opry

The governor said he had spoken to the White House about federal assistance and that he planned to assess the damage in a helicopter on Tuesday.

A twister knocked down power lines, and one utility pole dangled horizontally in the street in the Donelson area, home to country music’s most famous concert stage, the Grand Ole Opry, news pictures showed.

Nashville Electric, the city’s public utility, said there were more than 47,000 customers without power, with reported damage to four substations, 15 primary distribution lines, and multiple power poles and lines.

John C Tune Airport, about 13km from downtown Nashville, “sustained significant damage” and several hangars were destroyed, the airport said on its website.

The National Weather Service said there were eight reported tornadoes that touched down in Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky.

This is not the first tornado to occur on Super Tuesday in Tennessee. In 2008, a nighttime tornado caused significant damage across the middle part of the state, the weather service said in a Twitter post.– Reuters