As daylight broke across the greater Nashville area Tuesday, the devastation from a tornado that tore through parts of the city under the cover of darkness was revealed. At an airport, small jets were tossed. Power lines were down. Dozens of buildings had collapsed.
The death toll jumped to at least 22 people after tornadoes ripped across central Tennessee, and police and fire crews spent hours pulling survivors and bodies from wrecked buildings.
“Last night was a reminder about how fragile life is,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper told reporters at a news conference Tuesday morning.
John C. Tune Airport, Nashville International’s sister airport in West Nashville, “sustained significant damage due to severe weather,” spokeswoman Kym Gerlock said in a statement early Tuesday.
Several hangars were destroyed and power lines were down, she said, adding that there were no reported injuries there.
Gerlock said the Airport Authority has activated its Emergency Operations Center to coordinate response to the twister, and asked that the public avoid the airport.
Country star Dierks Bentley said he narrowly missed the tornado in Nashville as he flew into John C. Tune Monday night. He tweeted that he landed at the airport around 11:30 p.m.
“Glad we landed when we did. Wouldn’t have been good an hour later,” Bentley tweeted. “It was the cell that turned into the tornado.”
We ducked around this cell and landed at john tune airport around 11:30 last night. Glad we landed when we did. Wouldn’t have been good an hour later. It was the cell that turned into the tornado. Lot of people lost their homes. No one comes together as a city like Nashville does pic.twitter.com/qvCjrYNu0x
— Dierks Bentley (@DierksBentley) March 3, 2020
In addition to devastation at the airport, fallen walls and roofs, snapped power lines and huge broken trees left city streets in gridlock.
Aerial images from the Metro Nashville Police Department showed additional damage from the overnight storms.
Debris could be seen littering streets, and several businesses were destroyed.
Schools, courts, transit line and the state Capitol were closed, and some damaged polling stations had to be relocated hours before Super Tuesday voting began.
Metro Nashville police officers and fire crews were responding to about 48 building collapses around the city.
Search-and-rescue crews fanned through neighborhoods searching for injured people in collapsed structures.
According to Fox News Senior Meteorologist Janice Dean, forecasters believe the tornado that struck Nashville’s “heavily-populated area” was estimated to be an EF-3. EF-3s have wind between 136 and 165 mph, and create “severe” damage,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center.
The Tennessee Department of Correction also shared photos of the damage to the historic Tennessee State Prison.
The historic Germantown neighborhood in Nashville sustained some of the greatest damage along with East Nashville, two of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods.
Daylight revealed that roofs had been torn off apartment buildings, large trees were uprooted and debris littered many sidewalks. Walls were toppled, exposing living rooms and kitchens in damaged homes. Mangled power lines and broken trees came to rest on cars, streets, and piles of rubble.
“It is heartbreaking,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “We have had loss of life all across the state.”
The tornadoes were spawned by a line of severe storms that stretched from near Montgomery, Alabama, into western Pennsylvania.
One tornado touched down near downtown and reportedly stayed on the ground for about 10 miles, heading into Nashville’s eastern suburbs, following a path parallel to Interstate 40 and causing more damage in Mt. Juliet, Lebanon, Hermitage, and other communities.
President Trump said he’d visit the area Friday. “We send our love and our prayers of the nation to every family that was affected,” he said. “We will get there, and we will recover, and we will rebuild, and we will help them.”