NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Conrad Eisenhart, 23, awoke to tornado sirens at 12:40 a.m. on Tuesday. From his second-story apartment in East Nashville, he surveyed what he described as an “eerie” skyline. He and his roommate bolted for the bathroom.
“Just as I shut the door, all the windows blow in,” Eisenhart told The Daily Beast. “It was everything at once, almost like a bomb went off.” The storm ripped an entire unit from the back of their building and tore off large portions of the roof, he recalled.
The tornadoes that took Music City and Middle Tennessee in the middle of the night killed at least 24 people, damaged countless homes and buildings, and left tens of thousands without power—and many without homes. Some locals were still missing as rescue workers and utility crews tended to the wreckage, downed power lines, and potential gas and ammonia leaks.
Areas damaged include parts of Tennessee State University’s campus, the John C. Tune Airport, downtown, the city’s Germantown neighborhood, sections of north Nashville, East Nashville (especially near Five Points), and regions east of town, including Donelson, Mt. Juliet, and Lebanon. The toll was especially brutal in Putnam County, over an hour east of the city, where 18 were reported dead.
Although the warning sirens went off, some people say they didn’t have enough time to react. “I was fast asleep,” said Joe Vitagliano, 21, who lives in a neighborhood where two deaths occurred. “Out of nowhere it sounded like a cannon hit the house.” A large tree had pummeled the roof right above where he slept, and others toppled in his yard, he recalled. Late Tuesday morning, limbs dangled precariously over nearby power lines, and people walked the streets in the clothes they slept in, carrying salvaged belongings to dented cars.
Around midday, the neighborhood was bathed in sunshine and buzzing with a cacophony of saws. But Vitagliano called the immediate aftermath of the storm “apocalyptic.”
Ross Jones’ rental home is now under a tree, his car under another. Jones, 60, said a plank came through the ceiling, and water came pouring in. His main concern was for the safety of his 9-year-old son, Aaron. “You could hear things being thrown up against the front,” Jones told The Daily Beast. “It broke out the window, and you could feel the air pulling in and out.”
Visibly shaken in the aftermath, Eisenhart said he didn’t have much time to be scared during the actual tornado. “When I was watching out my window, my stomach was churning a little bit, my heart was racing, but once I ran to the bathroom and everything hit, it happened so quickly, I don’t even really remember how I felt.”
Eisenhart, Vitagliano and his roommate, and Jones and his son will need to find temporary shelter until their homes can be cleared of debris and deemed safe again. In Nashville, residents can seek shelter at the Margaret Maddox YMCA and Bridgestone Arena. In Mt. Juliet, Victory Baptist Church has established a community shelter.
Officials were pleading for nonessential personnel to stay off roads in damaged areas for their own safety and to allow crews to work. “Last night was a reminder about how fragile life is,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper said in a Tuesday morning news conference.
“There are some buildings up there that are just annihilated,” Vitagliano said, pointing to the Five Points area. “It’s like a full-on catastrophe zone. It’s very surreal to have that here in Nashville.”