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22 people are dead and numerous homes are damaged after a tornado tore through Tennessee overnight

By Jason Hanna, Hollie Silverman and Chuck Johnston, CNN

    (CNN) -- At least 22 people have diedacross central Tennessee as a result of severe storms and at least one tornado that raked Nashville and the region late Monday and early Tuesday, officials said.

The storms left numerous homes and other buildings in ruins across several counties, and left tens of thousands of people without power and hundreds at least temporarily looking for another place to live.

In Nashville, dozens of buildings were damaged, and more than 150 people have been taken to hospitals because of the storm, city Fire Chief William Swann said.

In Nashville's Germantown area alone, parts of apartment and other multi-story buildings were ripped open, with bricks, roofing material and glass strewn about, images from CNN affiliate WTVF show.

"As tragic as this is -- and our hearts are broken -- we are certain that we'll surround these folks and we'll do what is necessary" to recover, Gov. Bill Lee said.

The Cookeville area in Putnam County, some 80 miles east of Nashville, was especially hard hit. These deaths have been reported, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency:

• 16 in Putnam County

• Three in Wilson County

• Two in Davidson County, which includes Nashville

• One in Benton County

Tornadoes were reported at least three times along a 145-mile stretch, from the small city of Camden just after 11 p.m. CT, through Nashville after midnight, and into the Cookeville area in Putnam County shortly before 2 a.m., the National Weather Service said.

"There are a couple of tragic cases, in one case a tree falling on a car ... so we need to monitor that very carefully," Nashville Mayor John Cooper told WTVF.

"We all worry about some people being left in some buildings that have been damaged and I know the first responders are working their way through that problem," Cooper said.

In Nashville's Germantown area, scraps of wood and metal lined the street as people stood outside in their pajamas with their pets surveying the damage.

A resident of the area who didn't give her name told WTVF the tornado woke her up as it ripped the roof off part of her building.

"It just woke you out of your sleep," she said. "I'm lucky my side didn't get torn off. The other side is totally torn off."

"When you're inside it's one thing, but to walk outside and see this, it's bad," the woman told the affiliate.

Country music artist Taylor Hicks, a Nashville resident and Season 5 winner of "American Idol" in 2006, told HLN that a tornado damaged homes near his Germantown neighborhood.

"There's homes leveled. There's churches that have been hit by this. There's been a lot of people that's been affected in downtown Nashville. It's been a rough night," Hicks said.

Officers who specialize in urban search and rescue are being called in, Nashville police said. Rescuers are focusing their efforts in Germantown, East Nashville and Hermitage, according to Joseph Pleasant, spokesman with the Nashville Office of Emergency Management.

Homes are destroyed in Mt. Juliet, near Nashville

In Mt. Juliet, a suburb about 20 miles east of Nashville, the storm tore apart homes and other buildings, obliterating their roofs and scattering debris across yards, aerial video from CNN affiliate WSMV showed.

A tornado that came from Nashville area entered Wilson County, where Mt. Juliet is, and appeared to have stayed on the ground as it traversed the county eastward near Interstate 40, Wilson County Emergency Management Director Joey Cooper said.

Several subdivisions were destroyed, and hundreds of people in Wilson County have been displaced, Cooper said.

An unspecified number of people were injured in Mt. Juliet, and police are searching for others who might be hurt, Mt. Juliet police said.

Schools in Wilson County will be closed for the rest of the week because of storm damage, the county sheriff's office said. The storm flattened parts of West Wilson Middle School, video from WSMV showed.

Further to the east, there are "several critically injured" people, Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter told CNN in a Facebook message. The county suffered damage to several homes and power lines, he said.

In a Facebook post, the Putnam County Sheriff's Department confirmed a tornado touched down between the city limits of Cookeville and Baxter.

The sheriff department says some of the worst hit areas are in Charleton Square, Plunk Whitson, Echo Valley and Prosperity Point.

Several injuries have been reported in the city of Cookeville, Mayor Ricky Shelton said.

Voting delayed one hour in Davidson and Wilson counties

The storms came as Tennessee prepared to join other states for Super Tuesday presidential primary voting.

In Davidson County, where Nashville is, and Wilson County, voting will be delayed one hour because of the storms, officials said.

At least 50,100power outages were reported statewide early Tuesday, according to poweroutage.us, with more than47,000 reported by Nashville Electric Service.

Metro Nashville Public Schools are closed due to tornado damage throughout the city, a notice from the district said. Election polling sites at school facilities will be open unless otherwise noted, according to the notice.

Non-essential Nashville government offices will be closed along with Nashville schools Tuesday, and several shelters in the area have been opened for displaced people, the Nashville Emergency Operations Center said.

John C. Tune Airport in West Nashville also "sustained significant damage," according to a tweet from Nashville International Airport, which did not suffer any apparent damage.

The Airport Authority has activated the Emergency Operations Center, and the public has been advised to stay away from the airport until further notice, the tweet said.

Severe weather still possible across the South

Strong to severe storms still are possible across parts of the South on Tuesday, including Texas, North Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

In central and eastern Alabama, a tornado watch was scheduled to be in effect until 11 a.m. CT.

Nighttime tornadoes are not unusual in the Southeast, where tornado season extends into the winter months, when daylight is shorter.

The-CNN-Wire
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