A powerful storm system produced at least two tornadoes that struck central Tennessee early on Tuesday morning, including one that caused significant damage near downtown Nashville and killed several people.
The tornado near downtown Nashville lit up the night sky with flashes of light as transformers blew and the storm reportedly stayed on the ground into Hermitage, located about 10 miles east of the city.
“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.”
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency confirmed at least nine dead from the tornadoes that struck early Tuesday.
The Metro Nashville Police Department said at least two people were killed in East Nashville, while the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department reported three people in the county have died after a tornado touched down between the city limits of Cookeville and Baxter. Officials in Benton County told FOX17 a sixth person was also killed in the storms there.
Metro Nashville police officers and fire crews were responding to about 40 building collapses around the city as neighborhoods were littered with blown-down walls and roofs, snapped power lines and huge broken trees.
“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.”
Residents captured shocking mages of lightning strikes that turned the sky into purple and pink colors as the tornado that struck Nashville started barreling through the city around 1 a.m.
A video posted online from Sam Shamburger, the lead forecaster at the National Weather Service Nashville, showed what appeared to be a well-defined tornado moving quickly across east Nashville. Lightning repeatedly flashed while much of the city was in the dark.
The whir of the wind could be heard gusting after the tornado moved out of sight.
“It sounded like someone was just throwing bricks at the windows,” a man named Mark told FOX17 in one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods.
Some schools already closed for Super Tuesday voting will be kept closed for another week or more to handle repairs due to damage from the storm, according to FOX17.
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. Election polling sites at schools were expected to remain open, as well as district offices, according to tweets from its official account.
Jeff Roberts of the Elections Commission said in a statement early Tuesday that information about damage to polling stations is being collected as polls open for Super Tuesday. Any voter in Davidson County whose assigned precinct has been impacted may vote at the Election Commission Offices, the statement said. Polls open at various times, starting at 7 a.m. CST, depending on the county.
Emergency crews are assessing the damage of the tornadoes that started to touch down around 12:39 a.m.
After the first tornado, two warnings were issued a short time later in Putnam County, east of Nashville, which the NWS confirmed.
The Basement East, a live music venue in Nashville, reportedly “sustained significant damage,” but all staff working inside are OK, the venue’s Twitter account said.
The American Red Cross of Tennessee said on its Twitter account that a shelter had been opened for displaced residents downtown at the Nashville Farmers Market, just north of the state capitol.
In the town of Mt. Juliet, police urged residents to stay inside their homes after a tornado struck in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Police shared a map that illustrated the path the tornado took through the area.
Multiple people are reportedly injured and police continue to search for residents. Homes are also heavily damaged, with significant damage reports coming in from the Secretariat Drive area, according to FOX17.
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 their belongings not long after the tornado moved through the city.
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.
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.
The NSW had declared the storm “a severe threat” on Monday morning, adding “a tornado can’t be ruled out.”
The storm system was forecast to bring an isolated tornado, damaging winds, and large hail, news outlets reported. Heavy rain was expected to impact Gulf Coast states over the next several days.