NASHVILLE — Kayela Sharrett spent Monday evening celebrating her mother’s birthday with family, then went home and watched movies before going to bed.

It was just after midnight when phones rang out urgently and sirens blared. The eerie silence that followed turned to howling wind and the sound of debris slamming into buildings.

“I ran into the hallway bathroom, screaming — trying to get everyone to wake up,” Sharrett said. “No one came.”

An EF-3 tornado with winds up to 165 mph tore across the Nashville area early Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. At least 24 people died in four counties because of the storms, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. Some of the dead were children, officials said. Dozens more were missing.

“There are still people who are unaccounted for, particularly in Putnam County, and search and rescue continues there,” Lee said in a news conference Tuesday night. “A lot of today was assessment.”

By midday, it became clear that the storms were the deadliest in Tennessee since at least 2011. Lee declared a state of emergency as hundreds of thousands of residents grappled with no power, disrupted gas and water lines and impassable roads.

At a speech before the National Association of Counties, President Trump said he would visit the area Friday.

“Our hearts are full of sorrow for the lives that were lost,” Trump said. “It’s a vicious thing, those tornadoes. I’ve seen many of them during a three-year period. If you’re in their path, bad things happen. Really bad things happen.”

Once the tornado passed, Sharrett’s brother emerged from a bedroom. At the other end of the hall, their parents were trapped in another bedroom.

They broke through the door to find their parents with “the ceiling on top of them and plywood literally right in between them and a tree right at my mom’s face,” Sharrett said. But they were alive with minor injuries.

The family and Sharrett’s dogs descended from the rubble of what used to be her home, then navigated what seemed like a jungle of power lines to reach the street. The view from her demolished back deck reveals similar devastation west, toward downtown Nashville, and east, across the Cumberland River.

The walls of some homes were partially intact, but without roofs. Pink fiberglass cushioned footfalls on floors strewn with bricks and boards.

Cordoned by tangles of wires and toppled trees that totaled every car in sight, the cul-de-sac Sharrett’s house sits on is an utter ruin.

Less than a mile away, you’d hardly know anything happened, as a steady stream of Super Tuesday voters moved in and out of the Rosebank Elementary School polling site. Outside, the sounds of helicopters, chain saws and sirens were the only clue that something was wrong. It was a sunny, 63-degree afternoon.

Officials pleaded for residents to stay off the roads when possible. “Of course we want people to exercise caution in places like downtown Nashville, but we also want people to exercise their rights and get out and vote,” Lee said.

Jeff Roberts, the election administrator for Davidson County, said that as many as 15 polling sites throughout the county were relocated and that others without power received generators. Election workers were also affected.

“Some of our poll officials are trapped in their homes or can’t get out of their driveways,” Roberts told The Post early Tuesday. “We’re trying to create alternate sites where precincts are inaccessible to let people vote.”

The two Davidson County election commission offices served as “super sites,” where anyone from the affected counties could vote.

Democrats successfully petitioned to extend voting time around Nashville on Tuesday afternoon as the region worked to recover from the storms.

The favorable ruling from a Davidson County judge meant that all polling locations in the county were open an additional hour, until 8 p.m. local time, and five larger polling sites were open an additional three hours, until 10 p.m. local time.

The scene after deadly Tennessee tornadoes

March 5, 2020 | People look at the damage to the East End United Methodist Church in the Five Points area of Nashville. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the extension was not sufficient to give voters a “full and fair opportunity to have their voice heard” and called on election officials to allow voting for at least three more days.

She told reporters on a conference call that some people lost driver’s licenses or other forms of identification during the storm, creating a hurdle for them to vote, and cited the experience of one would-be voter whose home was destroyed.

“She is suffering from exhaustion and hunger ... She is dealing with the trauma of losing her home and is devastated. She feels like her life has been torn apart. In her words, there is no way that she was able to go to her polling location,” Clarke said.

Justine Arreche, 32, went to Rosebank on Tuesday morning to vote for Bernie Sanders. Still shaken but mostly unaffected by the tornado, she worried that the storms would harm Sanders’s performance in Tennessee.

Arreche said she was home alone when the storms hit. “There’s nothing like crying in your half-bath, begging the dog to come in with you,” she said.

A tornado warning was issued for Nashville at 12:35 a.m. But by that point, the tornado had probably already touched down just northwest of the airport on the west side of the city. One minute after the warning was issued, Doppler radar confirmed a destructive tornado, with debris lofted into the air, just east of the airport, directly over the state prison near the Cumberland River.


Tornadoes are especially dangerous at night. A 2018 study found that nearly half of all tornadoes in Tennessee occurred at night, and more than 60 percent of these tornadoes resulted in deaths. This storm was the deadliest the U.S. since 23 people were killed in Lee County, Ala., on March 3, 2019 — exactly one year ago.

Tuesday morning’s destruction stretched for 50 miles across four counties. At least 48 buildings collapsed in Nashville, according to Fire Chief William Swann. Officials said gas leaks were “a major concern” in the tornado’s wake. About 250 electrical poles were downed or damaged, according to Nashville Electric Service.

Basement East, an iconic music venue in Nashville, was nearly flattened. One surviving wall had a red, white and blue “I believe in Nashville” mural painted on it.

For Arreche, the sight of beloved neighborhoods and establishments destroyed has been traumatic. The mood in East Nashville is mournful. The Gold Club Electric, where Arreche got her most recent tattoo, was leveled.

“Five Points is dust,” Arreche said, referring to the neighborhood’s commercial and cultural heart. “I think everybody in East Nashville is feeling that. … It’s very sad to see people who work hard at their craft lose everything.”

About 20 miles east of Nashville, police in Mount Juliet, in Wilson County, said there were “multiple homes damaged and multiple injuries.”

At least one looter was arrested in Putnam County.

In North Nashville, people surveyed the damage with flashlights before sunrise. Robert Stockton and Ricky Howard flagged down passing vehicles with a flashlight to ask for a ride. The men had been sheltering in Stockton’s new Nissan Armada as the tornado passed nearby. Howard said houses, trees and power lines fell all around them as the wind violently shook the SUV.

“I could feel my car shaking,” Stockton said, “and then the electric thing just fell and busted my windows and fell on my car. … And every house around there collapsed.”

In Germantown, cars that were parked on the side of the street the night before had been blown to the middle of the road. The minor league baseball club’s iconic guitar-shaped scoreboard was damaged in high winds.

James Duncan, 27, and his girlfriend took shelter in their bathroom during the tornado.

“You could hear the wind howling and get louder and louder. It started sounding like a train,” the 27-year-old told The Post. Duncan peeked out from the window of his girlfriend's Germantown apartment and saw “just a wall of black.”

When they stepped out into the night, it “looked like a war zone,” he said. Glass was everywhere. Smaller buildings looked as if they went through a paper shredder. The roof of the apartment complex across the block was shorn away.

“It looked like Godzilla took a chomp across the top,” he said.

They smelled gas and heard water rushing from broken pipes. They were being evacuated from their building.

He walked with his girlfriend and her cat Luna walked for a mile through debris, dodging power lines, until they reached an area clear enough for friends to pick them up.

“It was chaos,” Duncan said. “It felt like we were in a bad dream.”

Bellware, Kornfield, Bella and Cappucci reported from Washington. Jason Samenow, Andrew Freedman, Elise Viebeck and Derek Hawkins in Washington contributed to this report.

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