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Deadly Tornadoes Rip Through Nashville Area Overnight

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tornadoes ripped through Nashville, Tenn., and surrounding areas overnight. At least seven residents are confirmed dead, many more injured, and authorities are still trying to map out the full scope of the damage. Blake Farmer from our member station WPLN in Nashville joins us now. Blake, I understand you're out and about. Where exactly are you right now, and what are you seeing?

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: I am. I'm in East Nashville, not too far from where I grew up. And there is just debris everywhere - roofs that are gone, windows that have been blown out. You know, a good part of an old historic church that's laying in the street is rubble. There's a few buildings that are basically collapsed. It - you know, power lines - I'm looking down an alley. There are power lines just all netted over the alley, and, you know, pieces of metal roofing and all sorts of debris just hanging everywhere.

MARTIN: Do you see - is there any traffic? Are there any people?

FARMER: Once the sun came up, people started getting out and trying to get going with their day. The storms really took a lot of people by surprise. And so overnight, there weren't a lot of people out. I was going door to door with a team of emergency crews, just knocking on doors to make sure that people were OK. And so there hasn't been much activity until right now. And people are sort of out just with their phones, you know, taking pictures because nobody can believe what they're seeing.

MARTIN: I mean we mentioned surrounding areas, so not just Nashville proper. Do you have any sense, based on your conversations with authorities, about the extent of the damage and the area affected?

FARMER: Well, I'm in East Nashville. And certainly, further east of town, we know there's damage out in a part of town called Donelson - an elementary school that looks mostly flattened. There's even a member of our newsroom whose roof is gone, who lives out there. And then further east than that, about an hour and a half east of Nashville, we know there were storms that went through near Cookeville. And so the damage is not isolated to right here near downtown Nashville.

MARTIN: How well is Tennessee prepared for tornadoes?

FARMER: We're certainly used to having tornadoes; in fact, have even had some tornadoes around Super Tuesday before. So this time of year, we know it's a possibility. Last night was not one of those times where, you know, all the meteorologists are saying the stars have aligned and you need to really watch out tonight. It really took a lot of people by surprise, myself included.

MARTIN: So there weren't warnings.

FARMER: Well, not to say there weren't warnings in the moment, but it wasn't like people - meteorologists were warning that the atmosphere was, you know, sort of primed, and we knew that there could be a lot of storms. People just didn't go to bed thinking...

MARTIN: Yeah.

FARMER: ...You know, I need to keep my head on a swivel.

MARTIN: Batten down the hatches, right. So as you mentioned, I mean, it's Super Tuesday. That's relevant because Tennessee is supposed to vote today. It's one of the 14 states voting. Is voting going to happen?

FARMER: Well, you know, I think there's some questions about how that's going to go. I believe that many polling locations are going to at least have to open late. But no doubt about it - it is going to cause problems because even if the polling location is OK, people may just have trouble getting there.

MARTIN: Right. Blake Farmer with our member station WPLN in Nashville, Tenn., reporting on the aftermath, the damage, the lives lost in these tornadoes that ripped across the Nashville area. Blake, thank you.

FARMER: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.