Tennessee is under a state of emergency after the deadliest tornado day in 7 years

Death toll rises after deadly tornado outbreak in Nashville, Tennessee., Photo Date: 3/3/2020
By Madeline Holcombe and Brandon Miller, CNN

    (CNN) -- Tennessee is under a state of emergency after the deadliest tornado day in seven years.

Putnam County officials went door to door Tuesday searching 150 standing structures. They planned to continue through the night into Wednesday morning, aiming to find people in the subdivisions hardest hit by the severe weather and at least one tornado.

Before dawn on Tuesday, 24 people were killed and hundreds of buildings were destroyed in the Tennessee storms. Officials in Putnam County, which suffered 18 storm-related deaths, have said they are working to locate 38 people who are unaccounted for.

Prison where 'The Green Mile' and 'Walk the Line' were filmed severely damaged

Ahead of the destruction, East Nashville residents only had 6 minutes to prepare and get to safety, according to the Tornado Warning for Davidson county.

"I got the warning and in less than ten minutes you could just feel the pressure, my ears were popping we all ran downstairs and just huddled together," Danielle Theophile told CNN affiliate WSMV. "It went by so fast...it's gone."

Tuesday was the deadliest tornado day since May 6th, 2013, when a tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, according to the Storm Prediction Center's Patrick Marsh.

Where the damage stands

Initial surveys indicated EF-3 tornado damage in East Nashville, Nashville's Donelson neighborhood and in Mt. Juliet, a town about 20 miles east of Nashville, the National Weather Service said.

It wasn't immediately clear how many tornadoes struck the region, as the same tornado might have hit multiple areas, the weather service said. Tornadoes were reported several times along a 145-mile stretch, including in the small city of Camden just after 11 p.m. CT; in Nashville after midnight; and in the Cookeville area in Putnam County shortly before 2 a.m., the National Weather Service said.

Tornadoes in the Southeast are getting worse -- and they're often the deadliest

More than 35,000 Nashville customers were still without power early Wednesday, according to the Nashville Electric Service. Crews were "having trouble" getting to the affected areas due to the destroyed and damaged power lines.

All Metro Nashville Public Schools along withbefore and after care programs will be closed Wednesday due to storm damage and power outages, the district said in a release.

"We know that families are facing challenges due to their children suddenly being out of school," said Dr. Adrienne Battle, interim director of Metro Schools. "We're sensitive to those issues and eager to get students back in classrooms as soon as possible, but the extent of the tornado's impact requires us to take at least one more day."

Two schools will not be able to resume classes immediately -- with repairs ranging from a few days for one to several weeks for the other, the release said.

Polling affected

The storms fell on Super Tuesday, and many of the polling locations were in the storm's path.

Some locations were destroyed to damaged, and the volume of several polling places often had to be condensed into one.

"We've deployed generators to polling stations that don't have power," said Gov. Bill Lee. "We want folks to get out there and exercise their right to vote."

The four top campaigns -- Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren -- filed a lawsuit along with the Democratic party to extend voting after the storm delayed the opening of the polls.

The judge has approved five 'mega sites' extending voting until 10 p.m. CT, while other voting locations in the precinct will remain open until 8 p.m. CT.

President Donald Trump will visit Nashville to tour the damage and offer his condolences Friday, according to White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere. He assured Lee that the federal government will assist in the recovery.

Volunteer state

Those suffering the damage aren't doing so alone; strangers and neighbors have come together assisting one another.

"We're called the volunteer state and there's a reason for that, because Tennesseans have a real spirit of generosity and service to one another," Lee told reporters. "As governor, now I get to see it happen for real right here on the ground."

Theophile said both her home and her neighbor's lost their roof. But her neighbors, an elderly couple, had the roof collapse on them, she said. So, she worked to dig them out.

Michelle Whitten was sleeping when a friend called her to say that she and her three children were in the tornado's path. She grabbed her children and rushed to a closet.

"As soon as we did that, we hear the wind howling, as it's over the house and hear something like a train over us. The house started to shake and windows shattered, we could hear ... loud boom sounds," she told CNN. "I've never been so scared in my life!"

And in East Nashville, a neighbor came to help board up a large window of a Crye-Leike Realtors' office that was blown out in the weather.

"That's just how East Nashville is, that's one of the reasons we like selling over here and living over here," said a broker with the office.

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