NASHVILLE, T enn. - Tornadoes ripped across Tennessee as families slept early Tuesday, shredding more than 140 buildings and burying people in piles of rubble and wrecked basements. At least 25 people were killed, many of them before they could even get out of bed, authorities said.
Sirens and cellphone alerts sounded, but the twisters that struck around 2 a.m. moved quickly.
"It hit so fast, a lot of folks didn't have time to take shelter," Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter said.
One twister wrecked homes and businesses across a 10-mile stretch of downtown Nashville. It smashed more than three dozen buildings, including destroying the tower and stained glass of a historic church. Another tornado damaged more than 100 structures along a 2-mile path of destruction in Putnam County, wiping some homes from their foundations and depositing the wreckage far away.
Daybreak revealed landscapes littered with blown-down walls and roofs, snapped power lines and huge broken trees, making many city streets and rural roads impassable. Schools, courts, transit lines, an airport and the state Capitol were closed. Over a dozen polling stations were also damaged, forcing Super Tuesday voters to wait in lines at alternative sites.
Sheriff Eddie Farris said only 30 percent of the Putnam County disaster area had received a "hard check" by midday. "A lot of these homes had basements, and we're hopeful there are still people down in there," he said.
Nashville residents walked around in dismay on streets and sidewalks littered with debris, in neighborhoods where missing walls and roofs left living rooms and kitchens exposed. Mangled power lines and broken trees came to rest on cars, streets and piles of rubble.
"It is heartbreaking. We have had loss of life all across the state," said Gov. Bill Lee, who ordered nonessential state workers to stay home and then boarded a helicopter to survey the damage.
President Donald Trump announced plans to visit the disaster area on 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."
The tornadoes were spawned by a line of severe storms that stretched from Alabama into western Pennsylvania.
In Nashville, the twister's path was mostly north and east of the heart of downtown.
Instead the storm tore through the largely African American area of Bordeaux as well as neighborhoods transformed by a recent building boom - Germantown and East Nashville.
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