Death toll from Tennessee tornadoes climbs to at least 24

NASHVILLE, TENNESSE (AP) — Rescuers searched through shattered Tennessee neighbourhoods for bodies on Tuesday, less than a day after tornadoes ripped across Nashville and other parts of the state as families slept. At least 24 people were killed, some in their beds, authorities said.

The twisters that struck in the hours after midnight shredded more than 140 buildings and buried people in piles of rubble and wrecked basements. The storms moved so quickly that many people in their path could not flee to safer areas.

“It hit so fast, a lot of folks didn’t have time to take shelter,” Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter said. “Many of these folks were sleeping.”

The governor declared an emergency and sent the National Guard to help with search-and-rescue efforts. State emergency officials, who initially reported at least 25 dead, revised the toll to 24 fatalities on Tuesday evening after determining one death counted earlier was not storm-related.

An unspecified number of people were missing.

Early findings by National Weather Service survey teams indicated that the damage in Nashville and Wilson County to the east was inflicted by a tornado of at least EF-3 intensity, the agency said.

One twister wrecked homes and businesses across a 16 kilometre stretch of Nashville that included parts of downtown.

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 3.2-kilometre 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. More than a dozen polling stations were also damaged, forcing Super Tuesday voters to wait in long lines at alternative sites.

Tennessee residents look through rubble in hopes of finding a neighbour near Cookeville. PHOTO: AP