Some Edmontonians are sharing their stories of the fatal twisters that tore through the city in Nashville, Tennessee early Tuesday.
Many people from Alberta’s capital travelled to Nashville for the Oilers game Monday evening against the Predators.
The tornadoes, which killed at least 22 people, were spawned by a line of severe storms that caused damage across Tennessee as it moved through the state after midnight.
Country music artist Brett Kissel was among the Albertans who hunkered down as one of the twisters ripped through downtown, Germantown and East Nashville — popular tourist areas home to bars, restaurants, historic homes and music venues, including the famed Grand Ole Opry.
Kissel, who owns a condo in the area, said he took in the hockey game Monday night as the Edmonton Oilers beat the Nashville Predators 8-3. (The Oilers took off for Dallas, Texas before the storms hit.)
Kissel and his wife Cecilia, along with some friends, went out after the hockey game to celebrate.
He said they heard the air sirens go off, and then an emergency notification appeared on everyone’s phones.
“‘Take shelter, this is not a drill, this is an emergency.’ It wasn’t just an alert, or an Amber alert — this was very serious,” Kissel said Tuesday, while speaking to Global News from the airport in Denver while waiting to board a flight back to Edmonton.
Kissel said when it was safe to go home, it was like entering a war zone.
“It was crazy to see a bunch of semis were actually upside-down in the ditch, any cube van was sideways and then as we got closer to our condo, there were a number of vehicles that had trees knocked down on top of them, and just crushed the roofs.”
Kissel said a burger joint he frequented was flattened, as was an AutoZone near his place. The Basement – a venue in East Nashville he said he’s played at a number of times – was also reduced to rubble.
“The roof collapsed and it just was completely flattened. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in photos and then physically with my own two eyes.”
Kissel said they drove through the aftermath of the storm on the way to the airport a few hours later and “it was terrible.”
“Our condo is fine, but multiple vehicles in our parking lot were flipped over and there’s a lot of devastation in Nashville like nothing I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Kissel expressed grief for the people who died and the others who were in hospital.
“My heart goes out to everyone in Nashville who has been affected by this tornado, and to those families that are grieving the loss of a loved one.”
Edmonton’s Jamie O’Connell also attended the hockey game and went out to celebrate the win in the city’s downtown.
She said just after midnight, it got really windy and air horns began blaring.
“It was super unnerving,” O’Connell said, adding they had checked the weather forecast earlier in the evening and there was no indication a storm was brewing. “We didn’t expect anything like that.”
“To be honest, I had a full-on panic attack. I was scared. I mean, you hear the air horns and it brought me back to ’87 when the tornado hit Edmonton.”
In July of 1987, a twister left 27 people dead in the Edmonton region. O’Connell was just a child at the time, living in Stony Plain, but said the memories of the Black Friday tornado have always stuck with her.
“You don’t expect an experience like that to shape your future experiences until it actually happens.”
O’Connell said they took shelter in a hotel as the twister passed by north of them.
Daybreak revealed a landscape littered with blown-down walls and roofs, snapped power lines and huge broken trees, leaving city streets in gridlock. Schools, courts, transit lines, an airport and the state capitol were closed, and some damaged polling stations were moved only hours before Super Tuesday voting was set to begin.
One tornado carved a path about 16 kilometres long, reportedly staying on the ground from near downtown Nashville along Interstate 40 to the city’s eastern suburbs of Mt. Juliet, Lebanon and Hermitage.
Marla Slemp is originally from Coronation, Alta. but now lives in the suburbs of Nashville and works as a nurse. She said she was at home when a tornado emergency alert came through on her phone around 12:30 a.m.
“It’s pretty common in spring and fall,” she said about severe storms in the area. “It happens so often that some people kind of blow it off.”
Slemp said she began receiving texts from friends saying a tornado was approaching, about eight kilometres away from her home. She said the power went out and the temperature outside dropped from around 15 C to 7 C in about four minutes.
“My three dogs and I got into the bathroom that’s under the steps and we were there for about 15 minutes,” Slemp said.
“We heard really heavy rain and the winds were terrible,” she said, adding the contents of her deck were thrown about.
Slemp’s house was spared from damage, but nearby homes have chunks of roof missing. “The shingles are gone, the wood is gone.”
Power outages were affecting more than 44,000 customers early Tuesday, utility company Nashville Electric said, adding four of its substations were damaged in the tornado.
Edmonton and Nashville are sister cities, sharing a love for food and music. The bond was established by both city councils in 1990. Representatives from each city visit periodically to exchange ideas.
“Nashville recovers very quickly. You go through the shock of it, and everybody just rallies together and people that can, do,” said Slemp. “They volunteer their time, their efforts, and if they have chainsaws they’re out there.”
The storm system left just scattered rain in its wake as it moved eastward. Strong cells capable of causing damage were spotted in central Alabama, eastern Tennessee and the western Carolinas.
— With files from Sarah Komadina, Global News, and Jonathan Mattise and Mark Humphrey, The Associated Press