NASHVILLE — Residents of central Tennessee communities slammed by deadly tornadoes on Dec. 9 described tragic and terrifying scenes in which one mobile home landed on top of another, roofs were ripped from houses and an entire church collapsed during a string of powerful storms that killed six people.
Photos of damage showed 18-wheelers toppled over by high winds.
Emergency workers and community members cleaned up on Dec. 10 from the severe weekend storms and tornadoes that also sent dozens more to the hospital while damaging buildings, turning over vehicles and knocking out power to tens of thousands.
Marco Tulio Gabriel Pérez came to Nashville from Atlanta after hearing that his sister and 2-year-old nephew were killed in the tornado. He said two other children in the family survived with minor injuries.
Family members were crying as they looked through the rubble of the trailers on the morning of Dec. 10.
“Regrettably, a tragedy happened here. Since it’s a tornado, it came through like you can see here. She lived in this trailer. The other trailer overturned on top of my deceased sister. She remained underneath, the other trailer went on top,” Pérez told The Associated Press in Spanish.
The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department identified the victims killed north of downtown as Joseph Dalton, 37; Floridema Gabriel Pérez, 31; and her son, Anthony Elmer Mendez, 2. Dalton was inside his mobile home when the storm tossed it on top of Pérez’s residence. Two other children were taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening, the department said in a statement.
Officials elsewhere confirmed that three people, including a child, died after a tornado struck Montgomery County 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Nashville near the Kentucky state line on the afternoon of Dec. 9. They did not immediately provide names. About 60 people were treated for injuries at area medical facilities, including nine transferred in critical condition to a Nashville hospital, said Jimmie Edwards, Montgomery County’s director of emergency services.
Twenty-one total injuries were reported in Nashville, city officials said. A church north of downtown collapsed during the storm, resulting in 13 people being treated at hospitals, Nashville emergency officials said in a news release. They were later listed in stable condition.
The sanctuary and activities building at Community Baptist Church in Nashville were totally demolished, Donella Johnson, the wife of the church’s pastor, said in a Facebook video. Several members caught by the damage had emergency surgeries for broken hips and legs, she said.
The church website had publicized an appreciation banquet for the Johnsons for late afternoon on Dec. 9.
“Though we have experienced devastation beyond measure, we did not lose life,” the Rev. Vincent Johnson said. “God took brick and wood and metal and it was mangled in a tornado … yet God preserved us.”
At least six tornado tracks were reported on Dec. 9 in central Tennessee, according to the National Weather Service. Agency meteorologist Cory Mueller in Nashville said it was sending out tornado tracking teams on Dec. 10 to attempt to confirm these potential tornadoes and calculate their severity.
Mueller said it wasn’t uncommon for tornadoes to be generated during this time of year.
Joe Pitts, mayor of the Montgomery County city of Clarksville, said it could be a couple of weeks before power is restored to everyone. Residents of the city of about 166,000 spent Dec. 10 helping one another dig out from the devastating storms, he said.“We know we have people who are suffering because of loss of life, loss of property,” Pitts said. “One thing I love about this city is that when someone has a need, we rally around that need.”
At a news conference with Metropolitan Nashville leaders, Mayor Freddie O’Connell said that over 20 structures had collapsed there as a result of the Dec. 9 storm and that “countless others have sustained significant damage.”
Nashville Electric Service executive Teresa Broyles-Aplin said electric substations in north Nashville and in nearby Hendersonville suffered significant damage and that outages could last days in some areas.
She said it was possible that a widely distributed video showing a fireball in the evening sky on Dec. 9 could have been caused by Nashville Electric equipment.
“That gives you a good idea of the extent of damage that we’re dealing with at some of these substations,” she said.
Residents in the region are familiar with severe weather in late fall. The Dec. 9 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.
Ellen Schlavach and Robyn Robichaud said that a tree fell on their house in the Madison neighborhood of Nashville, and many of their neighbors’ homes were damaged worse. They had been out running errands on Dec. 9 and had seen some warnings that a thunderstorm was coming. They realized things were serious after they got back home and received emergency alerts on their phones.
“We very quickly realized that we had to gather up all the pets and hide in the bathroom,” Schlavach said. “The house was shaking. A tree fell on the house. Very loud. Very scary.”
Greg Chance of Nashville said that he was watching the news on Dec. 9 with his wife and daughter and knew there was bad weather coming. Within minutes, they went to their safe place at a spot in the kitchen where there were no windows nearby and sat on the floor.
“And then the next thing we know, it just sounded like an explosion went off. You could hear stuff flying everywhere. It was crazy. It’s crazy. It is terrifying,” he said, emotion rising in his voice as he described the three of them holding onto each other.
He said he worked with Dalton, one of those killed in the storm, at a company that makes fasteners for construction. Chance said he couldn’t sleep knowing that his coworker lost his life and left behind a son. He said the boy and his mother were taken to the hospital with injuries.
About 40,000 electricity customers were without power in Tennessee on the evening of Dec. 10, according to PowerOutage.us, down from more than 80,000 on the night of Dec. 9. School would be closed in Clarksville through Dec. 12, officials said.
The Tennessee recovery continued as points east faced severe weather on Dec. 10 . Tornado warnings were posted at midday in and around Raleigh, North Carolina, while powerful storms crossed the state. There were no immediate reports of severe damage or injuries.
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