Weather & Natural Disasters

At least 22 dead after tornado rips through Nashville and central Tennessee

Phil Helsel, Ben Kesslen and David K. Li
Key Points
  • At least 22 people were killed, others were injured, and 50,000 households and businesses were left without power when a tornado struck parts of Nashville and central Tennessee early Tuesday.
  • A tornado spotted in Nashville around 12:30 a.m. killed two people in the eastern part of the city, according to Metro Nashville police.
  • To the east, in Putnam County, the sheriff's department said three people were confirmed dead. And, in Benton County west of Nashville, a man was killed when a tornado hit his house, a county emergency manager told NBC News.
Emergency crews work near a damaged business at Jefferson St. and Seventh Ave. N. on March 3, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. A tornado passed through Nashville just after midnight leaving a wake of damage in its path.
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

At least 22 people were killed, several others were injured and 50,000 households and businesses were left without power when a tornado struck parts of Nashville and central Tennessee early Tuesday, officials said.

The deaths occurred in at least four counties, including Davidson, where Nashville is, and Putnam, Benton and Wilson, according to officials.

"We have had loss of life all across this state," Gov. Bill Lee, who declared a state of emergency, said. Besides those confirmed dead, some people are unaccounted for, he said. "There are folks missing."

The carnage in Tennessee marked the most deadly tornado event in the United States since 23 people were killed in Lee County, Alabama, exactly one year ago, on March 3, 2019.

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President Donald Trump said he would visit Tennessee later this week.

"I want to send my warm wishes to the great people of Tennessee in the wake of the horrible, very vicious tornado that killed at least 19 people and injured many more," Trump said Tuesday in Washington, at the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference.

"We're working with the leaders in Tennessee including their great Gov. Bill Lee to make sure that everything is done properly. FEMA is already on the ground and I'll be going there on Friday."

The severe weather damaged dozens of homes and buildings, and as Tennesseans get ready to vote in Super Tuesday primaries, state officials were scrambling to ensure residents can still get to the polls.

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At least 45 buildings collapsed in Nashville, and police said that there were multiple buildings with damage, primarily in the downtown and east precincts.

"Emergency responders are working to ensure persons can get out and secure the areas," police said.

The tornado was spotted northwest of downtown Nashville and took aim at parts of the city, National Weather Service meteorologist Faith Borden said.

Video posted to Twitter showed what appeared to be extensive damage to an apartment complex.

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Blakeley Galbraith, a resident of the Vista Apartments in Nashville's Germantown neighborhood, said the fire department rushed to save people trapped in her building.

It was "chaos," she said.

"Our apartments got hit the worst in our neighborhood," Galbraith said. "Cars on top of our garage were overturned."

There was 6 inches of standing water in her top-floor apartment when she fled the building, leaving behind "everything," she said.

A resident photographs damage after a tornado touched down Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.
Mark Humphrey | AP

Main Street in east Nashville was closed at 1:30 a.m. and covered in half-fallen trees and other debris, The Tennessean newspaper of Nashville reported. Part of a building had also collapsed onto the road, the newspaper reported. Photos showed what appeared to be heavy damage to some buildings and vehicles.

Council member Brett Withers tweeted that the Five Points neighborhood took a direct hit.

Nashville schools were to be closed Tuesday because of damage throughout the city, officials said.

It was "a devastating night in Nashville," U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., tweeted, adding that he would work with the mayor's office on a request for federal assistance.

"Last night was a reminder about how fragile life is," Nashville Mayor John Cooper, the congressman's brother, said at a press conference Tuesday morning. He added that rescue personnel in the city are continuing to examine collapsed buildings to ensure all residents are accounted for.

He described the tornado as a "massive act of nature."

"There was no stopping that," the mayor said, referring to an AutoZone store that is now "missing."

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Among the confirmed deaths, at least one was in Davidson County, where Nashville is, and four in Putnam County to the east. In Benton County west of Nashville, a man was killed when his house was hit, a county emergency manager told NBC News. At least two people were killed in Wilson County.

Nashville suburbs Mount Juliet and Lebanon appeared hard hit, the weather service said. Police in Mount Juliet, east of Nashville, reported that the town of around 30,000 had significant damage and multiple injuries.

"We have requested mutual aid from allied agencies. We continue to search for injured. Stay home if you can. Watch for downed power lines," the police department tweeted.

The sheriff's office in Wilson County, which is home to Mount Juliet and Lebanon, reported "extensive damage to many homes" and road hazards.

In Putnam County, where there have been at least four deaths, the county mayor, Randy Porter, said in an early morning press conference that the region has extensive power outages and that multiple residents are injured.

Tennessee is one of 14 states voting on Super Tuesday, and some polling locations were damaged in the storm, according to NBC Nashville affiliate WSMV.

All Nashville polling locations will open an hour later than usual, and some sites, fewer than 10 percent of the total, have been moved, the mayor said.

Officials are working to make sure all polling locations in affected areas will be open for the required 10 hours, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said on Twitter.

The weather service said that as of 2:50 a.m., there were no longer tornado warnings in middle Tennessee, but warned that storms in the area had lightning and heavy rain and that 40-50 mph winds were possible. "Storms could quickly become severe, so stay alert!" the weather service tweeted.