By Brendan O’Brien
(Reuters) – A day after a series of fierce tornadoes killed 24 people in Tennessee, rescue teams on Wednesday were searching through flattened homes and piles of debris in the north-central part of the state for possible survivors.
The statewide death toll now stands at 24, including five children and 13 adults in Putnam County, about 80 miles (130 km)
east of Nashville, the state capital. An additional 22 people are reported missing in the county, where a string of twisters left a trail of destruction early on Tuesday, officials said during a morning news briefing.
“We have to be concerned because there could be those folks that are still in the area. We could still have some people trapped,” County Mayor Randy Porter said. “But we’re hoping those people are safe and just haven’t let us know that they are.”
Six-member teams of volunteers and rescue personnel were conducting searches using a grid method to work through a county where houses were reduced to splitters and debris covered roadways, Putnam County Sheriff Eddie Farris said.
Local media footage showed personnel wearing yellow vests and gloves picking through rumble with their hands and despondent residents reacting to the sight of widespread devastation as they looked for personal belongings.
In Nashville, where two people were killed, a similar scene unfolded as residents searched through piles of debris as broken power lines littered streets.
No one was missing in Nashville and about 90 people spent the night in shelters, Mayor John Cooper said during a morning briefing.
Governor Bill Lee said on Twitter that flags at the state capitol would be flown at half-staff until Friday.
“Our hearts are with the families across TN facing devastation and heartbreak after deadly tornadoes struck our communities,” he said.
About 40,000 households and businesses were without power on Wednesday, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said in an alert.
The White House said President Donald Trump would visit the devastated areas on Friday.
The National Weather Service received 11 reports of tornadoes early on Tuesday. NWS teams were surveying the area on Wednesday and found that at least one tornado with winds of up to 160 miles per hour (258 kph) touched down in the area. It was not yet clear yet how many twisters actually touched down, the service said.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Cooney)