Severe storms that tore through central Tennessee killed six people Saturday and sent about two dozen to the hospital as homes and businesses were damaged in multiple cities.
Three people, including a child, were killed after an apparent tornado struck Montgomery County north of Nashville near the Kentucky state line, county officials said in a news release. And the Nashville Emergency Operation Center said in a post on a social media account that three people were killed by severe storms in a neighborhood just north of downtown. Meanwhile, another 23 people were treated for injuries at hospitals in Montgomery County.
Photos posted by the Clarksville fire department on social media showed damaged houses with debris strewn in the lawns, a tractor trailer flipped on its side on a highway and insulation ripped out of building walls.
"This is devastating news and our hearts are broken for the families of those who lost loved ones," said Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts in a statement. "The city stands ready to help them in their time of grief."
The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department identified the victims killed north of downtown as Joseph Dalton, 37; Floridema Gabriel Perez, 31, and her son, Anthony Elmer Mendez, 2. Dalton was inside his mobile home when the storm tossed it on top of Perez’s residence. Two other children, one in each home, were taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries, the department said in a statement.
No further information about the other three deaths was immediately available Saturday night.
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that a tornado touched down around 2 p.m. A shelter was set up at a local high school.
Tornado damage in Clarksville, Tennessee (Clarksville Fire Rescue)
Residents were asked to stay at home while first responders evaluated the situation. In a briefing shared on social media, Pitts said there was extensive damage.
"So please, if you need help, call 911 and help will be on the way immediately. But if you can, please stay home. Do not get out on the roads. Our first responders need time and space," he said.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said he and his wife, Maria, were praying for all Tennesseans who had been affected by the storms.
"We mourn the lives lost and ask that everyone continue to follow guidance from local and state officials," Lee said in a statement.
Shanika Washington said that as soon as she heard the storm sirens going off in her Clarksville neighborhood, she took her children, ages 5 and 10, to a windowless bathroom in the basement of her townhouse.
"The lights were flickering, so I knew it was somewhere close in the vicinity," she said. "I just kept praying to God as it was going on. It was very terrifying and scary."
Deadly tornado moves through Nashville area (Phillip Lee Dixon via Storyful)
During their 20 harrowing minutes in the bathroom, Washington hovered over her children as a protective shield.
"The back door absolutely did fly open, and you just heard a bunch of wind," she said. "The blinds and stuff were like shaking really bad. I could tell that we were dead smack in the middle of a storm."
When she came out of the bathroom, she looked out of a window and saw the destruction: Debris swept onto cars that had their windows broken out. Shutters ripped from homes. Some roofs were ripped off townhouses. Air conditioning units and backyard grills were tossed like toys, and wooden dividers between townhouses were missing.
Because the power in the area was out, Washington took her children to a hotel for the night.
"I’m still shaken up a little bit, so I probably won’t get much sleep tonight," Washington said. "I’m still trying to just kind of like process it all."
Overturned semi following tornado outbreak in Tennessee (Clarksville Fire Rescue)
Allie Phillips, who lives in Clarksville, said she was grabbing lunch when she began receiving notifications that a tornado was quickly approaching her neighborhood.
"It was excruciating watching the live stream and not knowing if my house was still there," she said. "When we finally decided to leave, the road to my home was shut down because so many power lines were on the road and we had to take a detour."
Phillips said her home survived with minimal damage – noting that her daughter’s toys were banged up and that a neighbor’s dog kennel hit the back of her home – but she was saddened to see that her neighbor’s house was missing a roof and a home up the block had all but completely disappeared.
The National Weather Service issued multiple tornado warnings in Tennessee, and said it planned to survey an area where an apparent tornado hit in Kentucky.
More than 80,000 electricity customers were without power in Tennessee on Saturday night, according to PowerOutage.us.
The storm came nearly two years to the day after the National Weather Service recorded 41 tornadoes through a handful of states, including 16 in Tennessee and eight in Kentucky. A total of 81 people died in Kentucky alone.