By JONATHAN MATTISE and MARK HUMPHREY, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tornadoes ripped across Tennessee early Tuesday, shredding at least 40 buildings and killing at least eight people. One of the twisters caused severe damage in downtown Nashville.
Daybreak revealed a landscape littered with blown-down walls and roofs, snapped power lines and huge broken trees, leaving city streets in gridlock. Schools, courts, transit lines, an airport and the state capitol were closed, and some damaged polling stations were moved only hours before Super Tuesday voting was set to begin.
Residents of the historic Germantown neighborhood walked around in dismay as emergency crews closed off roads. Roofs had been torn off apartment buildings, large trees had been uprooted and debris littered many of the sidewalks.
“A tornado skipped across the county,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper told the Tennessean while visiting an emergency shelter early Tuesday. “You do have people at the hospital and frankly there have been fatalities.”
Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Maggie Hannan confirmed eight deaths, including one in Nashville, four in Putnam County, two in Wilson County and one in Benton County.
The tornadoes were spawned by a line of severe storms that caused damage across Tennessee as it moved through the state after midnight. Buildings, roads, bridges, utilities and businesses were affected, Hannan said.
One tornado near downtown Nashville and reportedly stayed on the ground into Hermitage, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) east of the city. Other areas reporting extensive damage included Mt. Juliet.
“Our community has been impacted significantly,” the Mt. Juliet Police Department tweeted. Multiple homes were damaged and multiple injuries were reported, the department said. “We continue to search for injured. Stay home if you can.”
Police officers and fire crews were responding to about 40 building collapses around the city, Metro Nashville police said.
John C. Tune Airport, Nashville International’s sister airport in West Nashville, “sustained significant damage due to severe weather,” spokeswoman Kim Gerlock said in a statement early Tuesday morning. Several hangars have been destroyed and power lines are down, she said, adding that there are no reported injuries.
Gerlock asked that the public avoid the airport until further notice and that the Airport Authority has activated its Emergency Operations Center to coordinate response.
A video posted online from east Nashville showed what appeared to be a well-defined tornado moving quickly across the city, flashing with lightning along the way.
The wind ripped off roofs and toppled walls, exposing living rooms and kitchens in damaged homes. Mangled power lines and broken trees came to rest on cars, roads and piles of rubble.
Among the collapsed buildings was a popular music venue that had just held an election rally for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The crowd left shortly before the twister struck the Basement East Nashville, the Tennessean reported.
The disaster impacted voting in Tennessee, one of 14 Super Tuesday states. Some polling sites in Nashville were moved, and sites across Nashville as well as in Davidson and Wilson counties were opening an hour late but still closing at 8 p.m. Eastern, Secretary of State Tre Hargett announced.
A reported gas leak forced an evacuation of the IMT building in Germantown, according to WSMV-TV. Dozens of people, suddenly homeless, were seen carrying their belongings through garbage-strewn streets after the tornado blew through.
The American Red Cross of Tennessee opened a shelter 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.
The outage also extended to the capitol building, forcing the cancellation of legislative meetings.
Nashville Electric tweeted that four of its substations were damaged in the tornado. Power outages as of 4 a.m. were affecting more than 44,000 customers, the utility company said.
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 left just scattered rain in its wake as it moved on into eastern Tennessee, West Virginia and Ohio.
AP contributors include Travis Loller and Kimberly Kreusi in Nashville and Becky Yonker in Louisville.