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Deadly tornadoes leave thousands displaced or without power in Tennessee

Kevin Wurm/Reuters

Originally Published: 11 DEC 23 02:40 ET Updated: 11 DEC 23 08:27 ET By Elizabeth Wolfe and Sarah Dewberry, CNN

(CNN) — Thousands of Tennesseans are displaced or facing prolonged power outages after a series of powerful tornadoes and storms tore through the state over the weekend, shredding hundreds of homes and killing at least six people, including a mother and her toddler.

Destruction caused by storms in Tennessee, where at least two tornadoes touched down Saturday, has prompted officials in some of the hardest-hit areas to declare local states of emergency, open shelters for displaced families and announce the closure of several schools on Monday.

More than 18,000 homes and businesses were without power Monday morning in the state, where early temperatures were below freezing and are expected to remain below 50 degrees through the day. In Nashville, a local utility estimates it may take days to restore power to some, while residents of Clarksville have been told it could take weeks.

Parts of Hendersonville and the Nashville-suburb Madison were slammed by a tornado with peak winds of 125 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

A single tornado traveled nearly 43 miles from the Clarksville area in Montgomery County to Logan County, cutting a path of destruction across both counties, according to the National Weather Service.

Three people died in Madison when strong winds caused a man’s mobile home to roll on top of another home, killing the man, 37-year-old Joseph Dalton, his neighbor Floridema Gabriel Perez, 31, and her son, Anthony Elmer Mendez, 2.

Wanda McClemor, who lives next door to the mobile homes, told CNN affiliate WTVF that neighbors emerged from their homes after the storm and began frantically searching for the mother and child. When their bodies were finally found, Perez still had her son wrapped in her arms.

“They couldn’t find it because she was holding it, covering it, protecting,” McClemor said of the mother and child, fighting back tears.

Another three people, including a child, were killed in Clarksville, where a tornado packing peak winds of 150 mph carved a path more than 11 miles long and left hundreds of severely damaged buildings in its wake, officials said.

“There is devastation everywhere,” Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts said after surveying the damage Sunday.

Clarksville officials said 91 buildings were destroyed and 271 are “uninhabitable” after suffering “major damage.” The majority of the damage was to homes, officials said in a Facebook post.

“We have a lot of families who are suffering and our hearts are especially heavy with those that have lost some and certainly with those that have lost (it) all,” said Jimmie Edwards, director of Montgomery County emergency services.

About 100 military families who live outside Fort Campbell have lost their homes, said Garrison Commander Col. Christopher Midberry said, noting the military is working with community leaders to make sure they are cared for.

Schools are closed on Monday in Sumner County and in Montgomery County through Tuesday, the local districts announced.

In a statement on its website, the Clarksville-Montgomery County School system said the county has seen an outpouring of support for those impacted by the storms.

“Many families have completely lost their homes and others are doing what they can to make repairs. This was a devastating and tragic weather event in our community,” the statement said.

A difficult, expensive road to recovery

As impacted Tennesseans confront the challenging recovery ahead, officials have begun to survey the extent of the damage, which could cost an estimated $3 million in Nashville’s Davidson County alone, local emergency management director chief William Swann said, noting the number could change.

In some of the hardest hit areas, some homes were ripped to shreds while others are missing roofs, windows and wide swaths of siding, photos show. Cars and large trucks were also thrown on their sides as downed trees and debris littered roads.

In Hendersonville, many business owners along the city’s Main Street are grappling with substantial damage to their storefronts, as well as power outages both at home and at work CNN affiliate WTVF reports.

Teresa Spraggins, who works at her son’s auto repair business, told the affiliate that the building is unrecognizable.

“The structure is gone. The only thing that’s holding anything up are these steel trusses, and they’re twisted,” Spraggins said.

“In this town, everybody knows the next person. We know everyone at Steve’s Auto Pro, everyone down at Tommy’s that got hit. We know someone from everywhere that’s gotten hit … It’s heartbreaking,” Spraggins said.

But at the end of the day, Spraggins is grateful that no deaths were reported in Hendersonville.

“I would rather lose everything in this town except for a life,” she said.

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