Update: After the death toll was reported at 19 mid-Tuesday morning, authorities updated the number of lives lost to 21, WKRN's Josh Breslow reported. Sixteen people died in Putnam County, two in Wilson County, two in East Nashville and one in Benton County. The initially published story continues below.
Hours after a tornado ripped through Middle Tennessee, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) Community Relations Officer Maggie Hannan confirmed mid-Tuesday morning that the death toll has risen to 19. As emergency crews continue to assess the damage, which is spread across multiple miles and counties, it is possible that the death tool could continue to rise, Gov. Bill Lee said at a morning press conference when the number of fatalities was still just in the single digits.
"There's a really good possibility that there may be more," Lee said, according to the Tennessean. "It's early yet."
Of the reported casualties, two occurred in Wilson County, where schools are now closed for the remainder of the week, two in the East Nashville neighborhood of Davidson County, and one in Benton County. The majority of the fatalities have occurred in Putnam County, with the death toll there currently sitting at 14 after having initially been reported as three earlier this morning.
"At approximately 2:00 AM CST, one confirmed tornado touched down between the city limits of Cookeville and Baxter," Putnam County officials wrote in a Facebook post prior to the news conference. "We have confirmed deaths possibly of 3 or more."
According to Benton County Sheriff Kenny Christopher, the single death in that county occurred in a 67-year-old man, who died in the emergency room after suffering "many injuries" after being tossed onto the yard from a mobile home.
Along with the 19 reported deaths, more than 150 additional people have been transported to local hospitals for injuries, according to Fox17 Nashville. Emergency responders continue to go door-to-door checking on residents, with reports stating that several people remain missing.
Meanwhile, the Nashville Fire Department reports there have been at least 48 building collapses in the city, with dozens of other structures, including residential areas, badly damaged. Temporary shelters have been set up for those displaced by the storms.0comments
In response to the devastation, TEMA has activated a Level-3 State of Emergency, which is defined as a "serious emergency or minor disaster has occurred or a situation is deteriorating rapidly and public warnings are being issued. The Tennessee Emergency Management Plan (TEMP) is activated and a state of emergency is automatically declared."
Despite the devastation, Super Tuesday polling is still scheduled to take place. Polling was delayed by an hour and several locations had to be moved due to storm damage. Many schools in the area are closed for Tuesday or longer.