MOUNT JULIET, Tenn. (AP) — A tornado tore through businesses and stores in Mount Juliet early Wednesday and a man was killed by a tree in Nashville as a strong storm system moved through the state.
Vernon Hartsell, 47, died when wind uprooted a large tree and blew it onto a storage shed where he was sleeping in the Bordeaux area, north of downtown, said police spokeswoman Kristin Mumford.
Across the state, thousands lost electricity as strong winds blew down trees and limbs onto power lines. There were also reports of injuries, most of them minor, over a broad area.
East of Nashville in Wilson County, the top floor of a three-story building was damaged in Mount Juliet as a man and his sons, who live there, dived under a mattress to escape injury. Nearby, a driver sleeping in his tractor-trailer truck likewise wasn't seriously hurt when the rig was blown onto its side, said Mount Juliet Police Chief James Hambrick.
National Weather Service forecasters examined the damage path of 4.6 miles Wednesday morning and estimated the peak wind speed at 115 mph, qualifying the tornado as an EF-2 twister. The path of damage was about 150 yards wide.
City Commissioner Ray Justice was out Wednesday morning to survey the damage. He said there was some damage to homes, but the business district was the hardest hit. A nearby little league park also had a downed fence, some snapped light poles and a missing equipment shed.
"Our biggest concern is the safety of the people of Mount Juliet," he said. "And we want to make sure the businesses get back up and running."
At a shopping center, large sheets of metal littered the parking lot, light poles were knocked down and bits of fiberglass insulation were stuck in the trees.
One wall of a Dollar General convenience store collapsed, and the roof was torn off. Mark Fulks Jr. runs Mark's Automotive with his father in a building attached to the Dollar General. The garage door was blown off his shop and sitting on one of the cars inside, and Fulks said several of the cars they were working on had their windshields blown out.
Fulks and some of his workers were out Wednesday morning collecting some of their equipment and debris that had been blown around in the wind.
A nearby office building and a distribution center for The Tennessean newspaper also had severe damage. Rick Martin, who bags the newspapers and helps his wife deliver them, was shocked when he saw what was left of the distribution center.
The metal frame of the building still stood, but its cinderblock walls had crumbled, and papers and plastic bags littered the trees.
"We feel real lucky," he said on Wednesday morning as looked at the damage. "I would have hated to be in here when this happened."
In Maury County, high winds tore off part of the roof of a building at Columbia State Community College and rain damaged equipment inside it. The Columbia Daily Herald (http://bit.ly/h6rHZ0) reported the college's Health Sciences Building, which houses the veterinary technology and radiology programs, was damaged.
In other parts of Middle Tennessee, 16 houses were reported damaged or destroyed in Centerville, and a building collapse was reported in Lawrenceburg.
Reports to the National Weather Service late Tuesday showed the breadth of damage in West Tennessee. Buildings were reported collapsed or damaged in Bolivar, a person was reported trapped under a mobile home in Bethel Springs and emergency responders were reporting roads blocked by debris as they tried to reach people who needed help. The weather service office in Memphis reported wind gusts to 70 mph.
National Weather Service officials were dispatching crews to various places to determine if the damage was caused by tornadoes.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.