NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNN/AP) — Tornadoes ripped across Tennessee early Tuesday, shredding at least 40 buildings and killing at least 22 people. One of the twisters caused severe damage across downtown Nashville, destroying the stained glass in a historic church and leaving hundreds of people homeless.
Daybreak revealed a landscape littered with blown-down walls and roofs, snapped power lines and huge broken trees, leaving city streets in gridlock. Schools, courts, transit lines, an airport and the state Capitol were closed, and some damaged polling stations had to be moved only hours before Super Tuesday voting began.
The death toll jumped to 22 on Tuesday, Tennessee Emergency Management Spokeswoman Maggie Hannan said, after 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 said at a Tuesday morning news conference.
Tornadoes were reported at least three times along a 145-mile stretch, from the small city of Camden just after 11 p.m. CT, through Nashville after midnight, and into the Cookeville area in Putnam County shortly before 2 a.m., the National Weather Service said.
The Nashville Fire Department is responding to approximately 40 collapsed structures around the city, according to a tweet from the agency.
Officers who specialize in urban search and rescue are being called in, Nashville police said. Rescuers are focusing their efforts in Germantown, East Nashville and Hermitage, according to Joseph Pleasant, spokesman with the Nashville Office of Emergency Management.
About 20 people are in Nashville-area hospitals because of tornado or storm damage in the city, Mayor John Cooper told CNN affiliate WTVF.
“There are a couple of tragic cases, in one case a tree falling on a car and there are also I believe about 20 people in the hospital, so we need to monitor that very carefully,” Cooper said. “We all worry about some people being left in some buildings that have been damaged and I know the first responders are working their way through that problem.”
Police in Mt. Juliet, a suburb 20 miles east of Nashville, are searching for injured people. “There are multiple homes damaged and multiple injuries. We have requested mutual aid from allied agencies. We continue to search for injured,” a tweet from the department said.
A shelter has been opened for those displaced by the tornado at the Victory Baptist Church on Tate Lane in Mt. Juliet, according to a tweet.
In Putnam County, there are “several critically injured” people, county Mayor Randy Porter told CNN in a Facebook message. The county suffered damage to several homes and power lines, he said.