Updated 12:45 p.m. ET
Tornadoes gashed through middle Tennessee early Tuesday, with the worst damage concentrated in and around Nashville. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency says at least 22 people were killed across four counties, and there are fears the death toll could climb as first responders continue to search for victims.
A state of emergency remains in effect across Tennessee. Officials say dozens of buildings across the area have collapsed and some 48,000 Nashville Electric customers are without power.
President Trump tweeted Tuesday: “The Federal Government is with you all of the way during this difficult time.”
At an appearance at the National Association of Counties in Washington, D.C., the president added: “Our hearts are full of sorrow for the lives that were lost.”
He said he would be traveling to the area on Friday.
At a Tuesday morning press conference, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said the deaths were “heartbreaking.”
“We have had loss of life all across the state,” he said. “Four different counties, as of this morning, had confirmed fatalities — in Benton County, Putnam County, Wilson County, Davidson County.”
The highest number of fatalities occurred in Putnam County, with 16 reported, according to officials.
WPLN, the NPR member station in Nashville, reports at least six people are receiving care at the main Vanderbilt University Medical Center campus, while 23 others are at Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital in Lebanon, Tenn. All are in stable condition, WPLN reports.
WPLN reporter Blake Farmer, reporting for Morning Edition, described debris strewn across one section of East Nashville.
“Just debris everywhere, roofs that are gone, windows that have been blown out a good part of an old historic church that’s laying in the street as rubble, a few buildings that have basically collapsed,” Farmer said. “I’m looking down an alley, they’re power lines just all netted over the alley and pieces of metal roofing and all sort of debris hanging everywhere.”
Tornado damage is responsible for the collapse of at least 40 structures in the city, according to the Nashville Fire Department. Public schools around Nashville are closed, though district offices are open, according to the official Twitter account for Metro Nashville Public Schools.
There was also “significant damage” to the city’s John C. Tune Airport. Doug Kreulen, the president of the Nashville Airport Authority, tweeted images of metal roofing ripped off buildings and what appeared to be planes torn apart and buried under debris.
Nashville International Airport, the city’s main air hub, is fully operational, though officials have warned travelers that road conditions may make getting to and from the airport difficult.
A line of severe storms caused significant damage to buildings, roads and bridges across multiple counties, according to TEMA. The storms ripped through middle and western Tennessee hours before residents were to take part in Super Tuesday voting in presidential nominating contests.
Davidson County, which includes Nashville, pushed back the opening of its polling centers by an hour to 8 a.m., citing storm damage. The polls are still scheduled to close at 7 p.m. as originally planned.
“The State of Tennessee has activated a strong coordinated response effort to last night’s devastating storms,” Lee tweeted Tuesday morning. “In the hours ahead, we will continue deploying search and rescue teams, opening shelters across the state, and sending emergency personnel to our communities hit hardest.”
Officials are cautioning residents to keep roads free for emergency personnel and to stay away from damaged buildings or hazardous locations. Emergency officials are also urging residents to refrain from calling 911 unless it is a life-threatening emergency.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper sought to project a message of unity.
“Nashville is hurting and our community has been devastated,” he tweeted. “My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones. Be sure to lend a helping hand to a neighbor in need, and let’s come together as a community once more. Together, we will get through this and come out stronger.”