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Tennessee tornadoes leave at least 6 dead, dozens hurt and more than 35,000 without power

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Posted at 6:19 PM, Dec 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-10 18:19:20-05

(CNN) — Tennessee officials are assessing the damage after tornadoes and strong thunderstorms roared across the state Saturday, leaving at least six people dead, more than 50 injured, multiple buildings destroyed and power outages.

At least three people died, including a child, after a tornado struck the Clarksville area of Montgomery County in northern Tennessee, officials said Saturday night.

Another three people were confirmed dead in Madison, Tennessee, just north of Nashville, emergency management officials said Saturday night.

First responders responded to more than 400 calls overnight, Nashville Fire Chief William Swann said. There are currently 25 displaced people at shelters and the number is expected to increase, he added.

Montgomery officials reported 62 patients were treated at medical facilities.

As of Sunday afternoon, there were more than 35,000 reports of power outages across the state, according to the monitoring website PowerOutage.us. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said in Sumner County, two water utilities were running on generator power.

Nashville Electric Service is working to restore power, Nashville Mayor Freddie O’Connell told reporters Sunday. Responders said 22 structures collapsed as a result of the storms, along with countless others damaged, O’Connell said.

A spokesperson for Nashville Electric Service said crews have restored 18,000 customers, but substations in Hendersonville and North Nashville suffered significant damage and there is no estimated restoration time. Some of the worst hit areas could take days to get power back, they said.

O’Connell said the city has been in touch with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and will be coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

When questioned about tornado sirens not going off prior to the storm, Edwards said, “he couldn’t respond as to why the warning sirens didn’t go off until after the fact.”

Many homes throughout the Clarksville area are also without power, which could take weeks to fully restore, Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts told reporters Sunday. He said officials toured neighborhoods Sunday to survey the damage.

“This is devastating news and our hearts are broken for the families of those who lost loved ones,” Pitts said in a statement. “The City stands ready to help them in their time of grief.”

Clarksville Montgomery County Schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday, Montgomery County Mayor Wes Golden said Sunday.

Teams are still conducting searches in the area, Clarksville officials said.

“The road to recovery is going to take time and we ask that citizens who are not directly involved in search, rescue, or recovery efforts to avoid the impacted areas,” the Clarksville Police Department said. “Emergency Crews are working as quickly as possible, and operations will continue until the scenes have been checked and cleared.”

Footage obtained by CNN shows a tornado churning across a Clarksville road, flinging debris in the air and sparking power lines as it ripped through the area.

In the storm’s aftermath, cars were left tossed on their roofs as downed trees and debris littered roads. Roofs and walls from multiple buildings were ripped off, photos show.

As Clarksville looked for survivors and possibly additional victims, the mayor declared a state of emergency Saturday and enacted a 9 p.m. curfew, which will be in force again Sunday night.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee thanked state and local responders in a statement on X shortly after the storms Saturday night.

“Maria & I are praying for all Tennesseans who have been impacted by the tornadoes that swept through the state this evening,” he wrote. “We mourn the lives lost & ask that everyone continue to follow guidance from local & state officials.”

3 Nashville-area tornado victims identified

Officials shared the names of three people who died when a tornado struck a mobile home park north of downtown Nashville on Saturday.

The Nashville Office of Emergency Management identified themon Sunday as Joseph Dalton, 37; Floridema Gabriel Perez, 31; and her son, Anthony Elmer Mendez, 2.

Dalton was inside his mobile home in Nashville’s Madison neighborhood when the storm rolled it on top of Perez’s residence, officials said.

Perez’s 7-year-old son and Dalton’s 10-year-old son, who were in their respective homes, were both taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to emergency officials.

Officials said they are waiting to release the names of others who were killed until next of kin are notified.

Nashville Fire transported 19 patients who were injured by the storm, according to a news release.

‘Whole houses that are just gone’

Thirteen tornadoes struck the state Saturday, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said in a preliminary report.

Rex Stockton told CNN affiliate WSMV the roof of his Clarksville home was blown off in the storm. He went outside after the storm passed to inspect the damage and saw his neighborhood had been devastated.

“There were whole houses that are just gone,” he said.

Stockton and his wife, a local nurse, began helping their neighbors alongside other good Samaritans. They could hear cries for help in the debris, he said, and managed to help some people.

“She was able to do some CPR, but she was not alone,” Stockton told WSMV, calling the experience “traumatic” but noting he and his wife were “fortunate.”

“There were medics. People were just coming from everywhere to help and they were able to do what they could,” he said.

“We have teams assessing damage and looking for patients,” the Nashville Office of Emergency Managementsaid on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Images showed severe damage in the area where the deaths were reported, with heavy debris covering a car.

At least two tornadoes – each described as large and dangerous – were confirmed Saturday afternoon, including one in Montgomery County and another near the Gibson County town of Rutherford, the National Weather Service said.

Two dozen tornado reports poured in across five states in the South during Saturday’s event. The National Weather Service will survey the areas to determine the exact number of tornadoes. The tornado outbreak was spawned by a sprawling storm system that brought adverse weather to more than 1,200 miles of the eastern United States from the Gulf Coast to the Canadian border on Saturday – with more bad weather on the way Sunday.

“Today a storm turned the world upside down for many in our community,” said Freddie O’Connell, mayor of Nashville and Davidson County.

The mayor declared a state of emergency for the area, where he said first responders were still working to get to hard-to-reach areas.

He urged residents to stay out of the affected areas and call the Red Cross if they’ve been displaced.

“There’s a long road of healing and recovery ahead for many of our neighbors,” O’Connell said.

“Significant damage” from a tornado was also reported in the Tennessee cities of Gallatin and Hendersonville, northeast of Nashville, according to a joint statement from the communities’ mayors.

“It is of paramount importance that citizens stay off of the roads and allow first responders and utility crews to respond,” the officials said.

Officials in Clarksville said nearly 300 structures suffered major damage after Saturday’s deadly tornado, and most of the damaged or destroyed structures were residences.

The City of Clarksville said on its Facebook page the Montgomery County Emergency Management Agency reported 65 structures suffered minor damage and 339 others had moderate damage.

Officials said 271 structures are “uninhabitable” after suffering “major damage,” and the agency also found during its assessment 91 structures “are totally destroyed.”

Storm threat continues Sunday

While Tennessee grapples with the aftermath, more storms are set to hit the Eastern US on Sunday.

A few thunderstorms may become severe on Sunday from the Florida Panhandle to Delaware, but the eastern Carolinas are most likely to endure a handful of damaging storms. Damaging wind gusts will be the main threat with these storms, but tornadoes are also possible.

Strong winds are also likely from the storm system fueling this weekend’s adverse weather. It will reach its maximum strength Sunday and generate wind gusts which could knock out power and disrupt travel.

Widespread gusts of 40 to 50 mph will slam portions of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast within about 150 miles of the coast. Inland areas across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast will still get quite breezy on Sunday, but are less likely to receive damaging winds.

Gusts could strengthen and reach up to 60 mph at times Sunday night in New England and along the New York and New Jersey coasts.

From Florida to New England, widespread rain totals of 1 to 2 inches are likely, with higher amounts possible for areas caught under repeated downpours.

Rain will change over to wet snow for portions of the interior Northeast on Sunday night and continue through Monday.