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Cleanup Continues In Tennessee Where Deadly Tornadoes Struck

NOEL KING, HOST:

Tornadoes leveled some neighborhoods in Tennessee yesterday morning. At least 24 people died. Blake Farmer is a reporter with member station WPLN, and he's been visiting families in the area who were affected. Hi, Blake.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So we've been talking to you about these vicious tornadoes since yesterday. In the meantime, I know you've been out. Let me ask - where have you been, and what have you seen?

FARMER: Well, you know, I started sort of close to home in East Nashville, and it was really bad. And it only got worse as I went east out of town into a community called Mt. Juliet, where there were subdivisions where people were huddled in their homes and where there were several fatalities. And then in Putnam County, a bit more rural area, where at least 18 people died - and this is a fairly remote area, you know, not, like, houses packed in all on top of each other. I met folks like Will Chorbajian in his scrubs. He was on the steps of his house in a community called Double Springs. He's is - he's an X-ray tech who saw dozens of injuries at the county's hospital overnight.

WILL CHORBAJIAN: Once they started coming in, it was just one right after another. But once they heard that the house was totaled, they let me go so I could take care of this.

FARMER: And by this, he means what's left of his house. He's pretty thankful that he was not there because he could have easily been one of the injured or even killed. The windows are blown out, roof peeled off. A brick wall was gone. And his house looked much better than the ones around it.

KING: And then, of course, the 24 people who were killed, which makes you wonder, did residents of this area get any type of warning?

FARMER: Well, there was certainly a warning in the moments ahead of time, but this was not the kind of night when everyone's on high alert because meteorologists have told us the atmosphere is prime for tornadoes. In fact, the National Weather Service told us afterward yesterday, they didn't see this coming with much lead time, especially such a massive storm. I mean, this path of destruction stretches 80 miles, and it happened in the middle of the night - some winds they've estimated as high as 160 miles an hour. So you had TV stations giving intense warnings, but for many, it was already past bedtime. And many people did get alerts on their phones, but I had several people tell me it was really just enough time to dive into the basement.

KING: Wow. And so what does the cleanup look like at this point?

FARMER: Well, you certainly got lots of chainsaws out, and power line crews and just people out picking up debris that's just scattered everywhere. But it's so much bigger than that. And this is tricky for families because there's so many homes that will just have to be bulldozed or businesses entirely rebuilt. So those folks are really just kind of figuring out, well, what do we keep - salvage some heirlooms? I talked to June Billingsley in Putnam County. She was sorting through her elderly aunt's house, a house that she built 50 years ago.

JUNE BILLINGSLEY: Well, I have found some photos, so, I mean, you know, photos are everything. One of her favorite tables is under here. Hopefully, we can save it.

FARMER: But these communities are really going to need tons of help, and some of them just need a place to lay their head tonight.

KING: Yeah. Blake Farmer of member station WPLN. Thanks, Blake.

FARMER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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