Tornadoes Rock Music City, at Least 25 Dead in Tennessee

A man looks over buildings destroyed by storms Tuesday in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(CN) – A series of tornadoes running through Tennessee early Tuesday morning killed at least 25 people and left swaths of destruction across the central part of the state.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said most of the destruction occurred in Nashville and two counties to the east of it.

In the Nashville area, an early morning tornado fully collapsed 48 buildings, leaving piles of brick and debris. As dawn turned to morning, firefighters and urban search teams looked through damaged buildings.

Video of the tornado posted from someone who filmed it from east Nashville showed it scraping across the darkened city as lighting flashed as wind gusted.

The Nashville Fire Department said it began to respond around 1:45 a.m. to about 400 calls. It transported 156 injured people.

Faith Patton looks over buildings destroyed by storms Tuesday in Nashville, Tenn.  (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

“It is a very tragic and difficult day in Tennessee,” Governor Bill Lee said at a press conference Tuesday morning. “But this is where people come together to see redemption in tragedy and we see that with our emergency personnel all across the state, doing exactly what we need to do to respond.”

Lee said he would soon take to the skies in a helicopter to survey the damage. He did not have a dollar estimate for the damage he said was “significant,” nor for the number of people still missing.

In the morning, Nashville-area news channels told viewers to stay inside and avoid traveling, partially because of downed power lines.

Tennessee, a Super Tuesday state that hosted many presidential candidates’ campaign stops, pushed the opening times back an hour at polling locations affected by the storms.

“Of course, we want people to exercise caution in areas like downtown Nashville where there’s damage in the streets and that sort of thing but we also want folks to exercise their rights and get out there and vote,” Lee said.

The state set up generators at polling locations that lost power and directed some voters to cast ballots at alternate locations. About 15 voting locations out of 169 precincts were affected by the storm, Nashville Mayor John Cooper told reporters.

Barbara Peck, spokeswoman of the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, said the Supreme Court building and the state courts across eight counties including Davidson county are closed for the day.

The courts, though, had a plan to field any elections-related cases that may crop up Tuesday.

“Judges are on stand-by. Appellate clerk has emergency staff in place. We will post any orders to Twitter and send to media,” Peck wrote on Twitter.

About 55,000 residents in the Nashville area sit without power, Cooper said, adding it may take Nashville Electric Service up to two days to restore service to some areas.

“We’re gonna need the state’s help and the federal government’s help for the assistance to rebuild because that’s what gonna happen starting at about two days once NES gets the power back on,” Cooper said.

The Geist restaurant’s brick wall collapsed in a tornado that touched down in downtown Nashville early Tuesday. (Alex Carlson via AP)

A line of severe storms caused damage across Tennessee as it moved through the state after midnight. Buildings, roads, bridges, utilities and businesses were affected, said Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Maggie Hannan.

One tornado near downtown reportedly stayed on the ground into Hermitage, about 10 miles east of the city. Other areas reporting extensive damage included Mt. Juliet and Germantown.

“Our community has been impacted significantly,” the Mt. Juliet Police Department tweeted early Tuesday. Multiple homes were damaged and multiple injuries were reported, the department said. “We continue to search for injured. Stay home if you can.”

Images on social media showed extensive damage to buildings, mangled wires on downed power lines and structures that were unrecognizable after the tornado had reduced them to rubble. One photo showed the roof and walls gone from a building that still had boxes stacked on shelves.

Among the collapsed buildings was a popular music venue that had just held an election rally for Bernie Sanders. The crowd left shortly before the twister struck the Basement East Nashville, the Tennessean newspaper reported.

A reported gas leak forced an evacuation of the IMT building in the Germantown community, according to WSMV-TV. Photos showed dozens of people in the street carrying belongings not long after the tornado moved through the city.

The American Red Cross of Tennessee said on its Twitter account that a shelter has been opened for displaced residents downtown at the Nashville Farmers Market, just north of the state capitol, but a power outage there forced people to move again to the Centennial Sportsplex, the Tennessean reported.

Nashville Electric tweeted that four of its substations were damaged in the tornado.

Metro Nashville Public Schools said its schools would be closed Tuesday because of the tornado damage. Wilson County, just east of metro Nashville, will close schools for the rest of the week.

The storm system was forecast to bring an isolated tornado, damaging winds and large hail. Heavy rain was expected to affect Gulf Coast states over the next several days.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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