Municipalities lend support as tornado recovery efforts continue

By KATE COIL
TML Communications Specialist

Communities across Tennessee are banding together after a series of tornados and severe weather events occurred.

The National Weather Service reported preliminary surveys indicated an EF-2 tornado with winds of 125 miles per hour hit Benton and Carroll counties.

A second tornado also trailed more than 50 miles across Davidson, Wilson, and Smith counties, starting as an EF-2 tornado with winds between 125 and 130 miles per hour hit portions of North Nashville including the Germantown neighborhood and John C. Tune Airport. The storm turned into an EF-3 storm with winds between 136 and 140 miles per hour as it hit East Nashville and an EF-3 storm with winds between 160 and 165 miles per hour hit the Donelson area of the city.

The tornado continued through the city of Mt. Juliet with winds between 155 and 160 miles per hour then on to Lebanon and ended near Gordonsville.

A third tornado struck Cookeville and other communities in Putnam County. The National Weather Service determined an EF-4 tornado with peak winds of 175 miles per hour struck Cookeville.

As a result of the storms, 25 Tennesseans were confirmed dead by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA).

A total of 18 were killed in Putnam County, one of whom was an employee of the city of Cookeville. Additionally, two were reported dead in Nashville, two in Mt. Juliet, two in Lebanon, and one in Camden.

After the storm, 88 people were treated for injuries at Cookeville Regional Medical Center and 150 treated at hospitals in Nashville. Initially, 77 people were reported missing in Putnam County in the storm’s wake. It took three days before all were accounted for.

Gov. Bill Lee described the event as both “heartbreaking” and “incredible” in its magnitude and response.

“I am proud of the response that has been made from our officials, from TEMA, from Metro Nashville, and from the other counties affected,” Lee said. “The officials and boots on the ground first responders have been inspiring… I have visited with folks who are helping their neighbors left and right all throughout this state. In the worst of circumstances the best of people come out and that is what we are seeing in Tennessee.”

Nashville Mayor John Cooper thanked the governor and state agencies for their quick response to the city’s needs. He also thanked the more than 5,000 individuals and numerous local companies who signed up to volunteer with recovery efforts.

“My administration is committed to matching the courage and strength of spirit shown by the tornado survivors I met with this morning, who serve as an example to us all,” Cooper said. “With solidarity, we begin the path forward to recovery.”

Cities including Columbia, Spring Hill, and Franklin dispatched emergency officials to Nashville to aid in recovery efforts.

The Nashville Fire Department reported at least 40 structures collapsed around the city. Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said for now that all city officers will be working 12-hour shifts with no time-off as the recovery process continues.

An estimated 40,000 people in the Nashville area lost power as a result of the storms with power outages stretching as far north as Pegram and Ashland City.

Mayor Cooper has already signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency in Nashville to help streamline the acquisition and distribution of supplies and services needed in the storm’s aftermath.

About 100 homes and businesses across Putnam County were damaged, and many were reduced to rubble. One of the hardest hit areas were the highly-populated subdivisions just west of Cookeville.

Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter declared a state of emergency to facilitate resources being brought to the area. Porter said the tornado followed the path of Highway 70 in the western end of Putnam County leaving many roads impassable.

Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton toured the damage as recovery efforts continued. About 1,000 people in the city were without power after the storms.

“This is an absolutely tragic and devastating day for our city and county,” Shelton said. “Our first ask is for prayers for our families, community and responders that are out there and have been out there almost 10 hours searching and rescuing and working through that.”

Shelton said the city set up a helpline for missing persons and established three shelters for the displaced in the community.

“It is a massive undertaking and all the employees of the city and county have responded,” Shelton said. “We have received mutual aid from other agencies. We are still searching and trying to find the missing.”

Officials with both the city and county spent the days after the storms going door-to-door searching for injured or trapped residents. Drones were also used to survey damage and help search for possible survivors.

Despite the devastation, Shelton said Tennessee’s volunteer spirit was apparent.

“We’ve been amazed at the outpouring of love and support we’ve seen and we are very thankful. The area is devastated,” Shelton said. “We have tractor-trailer loads of water and all kinds of things coming in.”

Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville cancelled classes both Tuesday and Wednesday following the storms with students urged to use the time to help the local community.

The most severely damaged areas of the city of Mt. Juliet were placed under a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Several streets remained closed.

Capt. Tyler Chandler, public information officer for the Mt. Juliet Police Department, said officials with the Wilson County Emergency Management and Mt. Juliet Fire Department are doing damage assessments throughout the community.

Chandler said the city’s public works department has also received help from numerous other cities in their cleanup efforts.

“Officials with LaVergne, Brentwood, Franklin, and even some private companies are now out in the city working very hard to clear up the major debris. We appreciate the support from all our surrounding cities to help us with everything they are doing.”

In addition to debris and power outages, Chandler said there were some sewer issues reported in areas most impacted by the storm.

“Our folks are working very hard and it’s all hands on deck for the city,” he said. “We are putting our city back to normal as best we can. We appreciate the volunteer spirit everyone has. We have a volunteer portal set up for volunteers and donations.”

The city of Lebanon reported damage to some parks and recreation facilities. The city’s Baird Park was closed due to a lack of power.

“The main thing is no injuries to anyone and the fields can and will be rebuilt,” read a statement on the Lebanon Department of Parks and Recreation Facebook page. “Thankfully, it wasn’t a night of practice or games. Be patient with us as the process to rebuild will take some time.”

Thousands were left without power in Lebanon as the result of the storm with more than 70 power lines downed in the city’s South Hartman corridor with power restoration taking several days. Lebanon City Public Works employees worked overtime to help pick up debris throughout the city.

Sgt. P.J. Hardy, public information officer with the Lebanon Police Department, said in addition to state officials, police departments and public works personnel from Brentwood, Franklin, Gallatin, Hendersonville, Portland as well as Sumner County and Tennessee State Park rangers came out to help Lebanon in its time of need.

“We would like to thank many of surrounding agencies who have reached out and sent support,” Hardy said. “They have sent officers and other personnel to help out. We thank all of these agencies from the bottom of our hearts. We appreciate their support and assistance. In addition to agencies, a lot of folks have come out with food donations and water. Many citizens came in and dropped off food and refreshments. We are super appreciative of that.”

Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn issued a joint statement about the incident and said they would be working to secure disaster funds for the state.
“Our hearts go out to the Tennessee families who were hurt by the severe tornadoes last night,” the statement said. “We are going to do everything we can to work with Gov. Bill Lee, mayors, and others to make sure that federal assistance is available.”

The Tennessee Department of Emergency Management (TEMA) put in place a Crisis Cleanup Help Line for those who need help with cleanup and debris removal. Services are offered for free and the line is staffed 24/7. The Crisis Cleanup Help Line is a coordinated effort to help Tennessee tornado survivors between the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Tennessee Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, Volunteer Tennessee and the Crisis Cleanup organization.

TEMA also worked with Airbnb to provide no-cost accommodation to storm survivors who needed a place to stay. Tornado survivors can visit www.airbnb.com/tntornado20 to find and book urgent, temporary accommodations in Airbnb’s Open Homes program.

Officials with TEMA also encouraged those who want to help to give financial donations to those in need.

“Cash can be used immediately in response to a crisis, and allows disaster relief organizations to purchase exactly what is needed, when it’s needed,” a statement on the TEMA website said. “Cash gives relief organizations the means to procure supplies near the affected area, which cuts down on transportation time and cost. Monetary contributions also support local economies and ensure that businesses can operate when relief supplies diminish.”

Those who want to help are encouraged to give to the Tennessee Region of the American Red Cross and Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
Those in the Nashville area who want to volunteer can contact Hands on Nashville while those who want to volunteer in other areas impacted by the disaster can visit the Tennessee Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (TN VOAD).