FRANKLIN, Tenn. — A tornado swept through two of Nashville's southern suburbs just after dawn Saturday, killing one person, injuring 15 and destroying 20 buildings in a 3-mile-long path.
As many as eight twisters were reported in the Franklin area shortly after 6 a.m., the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency reported, but apparently only one was responsible for the destruction in Franklin and neighboring Brentwood.
The tornado, which cut a swath about 3 miles long by 50 yards wide, destroyed 15 houses and damaged 40 others, and five commercial buildings were toppled and six more damaged, said Danny Newton, the agency's chief of operations.
"I'm glad that you're talking to me instead of writing my obituary," said Hardy Britton, whose wife suffered only minor injuries after she was sucked through a shattered window of their frame house and hurled at least 20 or 30 yards into an open field.
Not a single piece of furniture remained intact in Britton's home, but he and his two daughters were uninjured.
"There is massive damage," Franklin firefighter Garry Neal said. "At Christmas, this couldn't have happened at a worse time. Things are helter-skelter. It's caught everybody off guard."
A number of planes at the local airport also were destroyed, said Lt. Jim Harper of the Franklin Fire Department. Trees and telephone poles were hurled through the air.
The threat of tornadoes moved eastward with the passage of a line of intense thunderstorms, leaving residents to face Christmas with ruined homes and cars and streets littered with torn-apart trees and shards of wood, metal and insulation.
Ernest Rice, age unknown, was dead on arrival at Williamson County Medical Center, 20 miles south of Nashville.
A hospital spokeswoman said: "His house collapsed, and . . . he was crushed. But his family is safe. Somehow, they were not hurt, but they are in a state of shock."
15 People Treated
At least 15 people injured in the storm were taken to the same hospital, a nursing supervisor said. All but two were treated and released.
Hotels provided rooms free of charge, and emergency shelters were opened at a school and the YMCA for those left homeless in Franklin, a city of stately mansions where a Civil War battle was fought in 1864.
Most residents were sleeping or just waking up when the storm hit. "All I know is I got up and got myself a cup of coffee," Britton said. "I heard two fast whistles (of wind) and that was it. I was blown off my feet."
Britton's neighbor, Betty White, said: "It was just like a train going through the house, a lot of wind, and it was whistling real loud, and glass was flying everywhere."
White's brick frame home was heavily damaged, but she, her husband and their two sons were unhurt.