Tornadoes devastate Tennessee, killing at least 24 people

About 40 buildings around Nashville destroyed

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The number of deaths from devastating tornadoes in Tennessee has risen to 24.

Gov. Bill Lee announced the increase at a news conference Tuesday afternoon where he was accompanied by Nashville Mayor John Cooper.

The storms struck early Tuesday as families slept. The twisters shredded more than 140 buildings and buried people in piles of rubble and wrecked basements.

The governor declared an emergency and sent the National Guard to help with search-and-rescue efforts in Putnam County, 80 miles east of Nashville.

Many of the deaths were there. Authorities say many of the victims were hit before they could even get out of bed.

An unspecified number of people were missing.

President Donald Trump says he’ll visit damaged areas Friday.

Deadly tornado hits Nashville overnight

Daybreak revealed landscapes littered with blown-down walls and roofs, snapped power lines and huge broken trees.

Schools, courts, transit lines and the state Capitol were closed.

More than a dozen polling stations were also damaged, forcing Super Tuesday voters to wait in long lines at alternative sites.

The National Weather Service in Nashville said damage survey results indicate a tornado of at least an EF-3 strength hit Wilson and Davidson counties.

One of the twisters caused severe damage across downtown Nashville on Tuesday, leaving blown-down walls and roofs, snapped power lines, huge broken trees, and city streets in gridlock.

One of the damaged buildings was a concert venue that had held an event for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders ahead of Super Tuesday voting.

Some polling stations were moved and others opened an hour late as Super Tuesday voting began. Schools already closed for voting will be kept closed this week and beyond to handle repairs.

Courts, transit lines, an airport and the state Capitol are closed. A historic church lost its bell tower and stained glass window.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper says “last night was a reminder about how fragile life is.” Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency.

WATCH: A tornado moves through a TV station parking lot

Cooper and the sheriffs of Putnam and Benton counties reported the fatalities across a landscape littered with blown-down buildings, snapped power lines and huge broken trees.

Interstate 40 was diverted in two places, both eastbound and westbound.

WATCH: Tornado moves through Nashville

The NWS reports the storm potentially caused a long-track tornado that began several miles west of Nashville, continued through the city and then areas to the east. The tornado reportedly stayed on the ground into Hermitage, about 10 miles east of the city.

A video posted online appeared to show a well-defined tornado in eastern Nashville.

Nashville Electric reports damage to four substations and 15 primary distribution lines. More than 44,000 customers were without power around 4 a.m. Tuesday.

Basement East, a live music venue, in East Nashville was heavily damaged, WTVF reports. Workers say they were able to get into the basement seconds before the building was hit and the roof was ripped off.

A reported gas leak in the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville forced an evacuation shortly after the tornado moved through the city. Photos showed dozens of people in the street carrying belongings.

The John C. Tune Airport in West Nashville sustained significant damage to its hangars and power lines, according to its sister airport, the Nashville International Airport (BNA). BNA itself was not damaged and remains fully operational.

The Tennessee secretary of state is in contact with election officials and emergency management personnel to dispatch resources to support running a election Tuesday.

The cities of Cookeville and Mt. Juliet were impacted significantly.

The NWS issued two tornado warnings for Putnam County early Tuesday. It said the tornadoes were confirmed on radar.

Thunderstorms in the state produced lightning, heavy rain and winds up to 50 miles per hour.

Tennessee was not the only state to experience dangerous weather overnight. The severe weather wrecked about 20 to 30 buildings and homes in Hale County, Ala., WBRC reported.

A state Democratic Party spokeswoman says a judge has extended voting hours in a Nashville-area county after four Democratic presidential candidates sued to keep Super Tuesday polls open after tornado damage there.

Severe weather damaged more than a dozen voting locations in Davidson County earlier Tuesday.

Tennessee Democratic Party spokeswoman Emily Cupples said a judge in the county ruled that polling locations in the county must be kept open until 8 p.m. local time.

Two so-called megasites where anyone in the tornado-stricken county can vote will be open until 10 p.m. local time under the judge’s ruling.

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