Gov. Lee: ‘The devastation is heartbreaking, incredible’ after surveying deadly tornado damage


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Governor Bill Lee spoke at a press conference with state and city officials Tuesday afternoon following the deadly tornadoes that struck Middle Tennessee.

“It’s a tragic day in our state, a sad day. There are 25* confirmed fatalities across our state,” Lee said in his opening remarks at the press conference. “I spent the day touring and visiting victims and walking through neighborhoods and the devastation is heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking, it’s incredible. Our prayers are greatly needed for families out there who are dealing with a sudden, tragic event that has occurred in our state.”

(Photo: State Rep. Ryan Williams)

Lee also said he was proud of the response made from officials, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), county officials and law enforcement.

“From the federal government all the way to the neighborhoods, we’ve seen a very coordinated effort,” Lee said. “President Trump called me personally today, the head of FEMA called me personally, I’ve had multiple governors from across the country reach out.”

Multiple agencies are coordinating to assess the damage and offer services and resources to victims.

“It’s a remarkable situation that we have – both tragic and hopeful at the same time,” Lee said. “The good news is, the response has been great. There are counties from across the state that are sending resources – generators coming, pallets of water coming, highway patrolmen being dispatched to places where they’re needed, shelters being put up all across the state to make sure people have a place to stay tonight who’ve lost their homes. There’s a tremendous coordinated effort and we’re very encouraged by that.

“As tragic and as difficult as this day is, Tennesseans are doing what Tennesseans do, and they’re coming together to redeem a really difficult place that we find all of ourselves in,” Lee said.

View the full press conference here:

Lee, confirming with state and Nashville officials that at least 25* people were killed after the tornadoes passed through Middle Tennessee in the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 3.

RELATED: President Trump to visit Nashville Friday following deadly tornadoes

There were other numbers shared by Nashville Mayor John Cooper: More than 5,000 volunteers had signed up to help rebuild, along with more than 27 companies had contacted Hands On Nashville to help; more than $350,000 had been donated to help.

“What a testament to our city and our solidarity,” Cooper said.

These numbers, shared at the press conference around 5:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, with Cooper saying more volunteers were continuing to sign up online.

An executive order declaring a state of emergency was signed to facilitate efforts, Cooper said, which will help agencies in the cleanup efforts and streamline the ability to acquire supplies and services.

“We are resilient and we’re going to rebuild,” Cooper declared.

RELATED: Mayor Cooper’s office releases cleanup plan following devastating Middle Tennessee tornadoes

TEMA director Patrick Sheehan also spoke at the press conference alongside Lee and Cooper, confirming that the agency had opened the state of emergency operations center late Monday night, when the storms first started moving through the region. The agency had been working since the middle of the night with the American Red Cross and the Department of Health to provide resources to the communities devastated by the tornadoes.

“We’ll be examining other needs as we move forward,” Sheehan said.

MORE: How to help families impacted by Middle Tennessee tornadoes

Lee broke down the number of fatalities confirmed as of Tuesday evening:

Putnam County: 19*
Wilson County: 3
Davidson County: 2
Benton County: 1

There was also an unknown number of people still missing out of Putnam County, Lee said, with Search & Rescue efforts continuing along with assistance from the Tennessee National Guard.

*Note: TEMA later said Tuesday night there were a total of 24 confirmed fatalities: There were 18 fatalities and 88 injuries confirmed in Putnam County. “Putnam County’s original report of 19 to the SEOC included one fatality that was not storm-related,” TEMA officials stated.

Missing Persons List from Putnam County:

Rachel Baughman
Katherine Julian
Doreen Black
Ryan Hunter
Penny Penelope Cole
Phyllis Burchett
Charles Spurlock
Diana and Robert Smith
Michael Bowers
Iris Walker
Dwight Gentry
Rocky Smith
Stella Zuller
Ryan Packinghan
Dustin Kingsland
David Phillips
Maureen Langford & Andi Otis
Lisa Burgess
Edward Carter
Tommy Knight
Robin & Bethany Babb
Joey Dedemicis
Joe Murphy Jr.
Denton Nelson
Glen & Anthony Phillips
Rick Stegill
Rocky Smith
Ryan Packinghan
Tracy & Cody McGhee
Peyton Jackson
Colton Matheney
Kathy Koch
Joe Yoder

View the full press conference with Putnam County officials:

The Tennessee National Guard said Tuesday night that soldiers and airmen were activated in response to the tornadoes:

“Currently, personnel from the Tennessee Air Guard’s 118th Mission Support Group, based at Berry Field, have moved 2-100KW generators to support a water treatment facility in Jackson County. These generators restore power to critical infrastructure, while permanent power is unavailable.

More than 60 Soldiers with the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment’s 2nd Squadron from the National Guard armory in Cookeville are supporting state and local police with traffic control. Additionally, a military police company has been activated to assist within the next 24 hours.”

Tennessee National Guard

Knox County Rescue said Tuesday night its agency was sending two additional trucks, five crew members and an all-terrain vehicle to join the task force that had deployed earlier Tuesday, partnering with the Knoxville Fire Department.

This is a developing story. Check back with WATE 6 On Your Side or WKRN News 2 for more additional updates.


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