Massive cleanup underway after Tennessee EF-3 tornado as stories of survival emerge

Families ran for their lives when the tornado sirens started blaring on Saturday, some barely taking cover just in time. Storm survey teams from the National Weather Service confirmed an EF-3 tornado was responsible for the devastation in Clarksville, where three people were killed, including a child.

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Residents of small Middle Tennessee towns began an organized effort on Monday to clean up debris and help their neighbors after a deadly tornado ripped through the heart of the Volunteer State over the weekend.

Montgomery County officials have confirmed three deaths in Clarksville, including one child, after a tornado on Saturday brought peak winds of 150 mph, tearing homes apart. More than 60 people were treated for injuries from the twister, according to the National Weather Service.

Volunteers and donations are needed in Montgomery County, where storm survey teams from the National Weather Service confirmed an EF-3 tornado was responsible for the devastation in Clarksville. About 170,000 people live in Clarksville, home to the Fort Campbell Army base.

NWS surveyors continue to assess the damage left by at least 11 confirmed tornadoes from Saturday in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Clarksville city officials said a coordinated volunteer cleanup began Monday where the most extensive tornado damage occurred. Volunteers gathered at Mosaic Church before being taken by bus to different cleanup locations.

"We had crews mobilized at daybreak today in these areas to clean up roadways," Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts said. "We've got shelter set up, food, showers, laundry services. Whatever is needed, we've got it available."

Schools in Clarksville will remain closed on Monday and Tuesday, Pitts told FOX Weather. West Creek Elementary school did sustain minor damage, but Pitts said he is most concerned about families impacted by damage to their homes. 

"Christmas will look different for our community this year, but our community is strong, we're resilient, and our resolve is strong," Pitts said. "We've already seen an overwhelming response by our faith community, our nonprofit community and the private sector. The business community is stepping up in a big way."

Saturday's severe thunderstorms and tornado outbreak in the region took out power poles and damaged substations in Tennessee. Security video showed an explosion at a Nashville Electric Service substation as an EF-2 tornado barreled through Madison.

As of Monday, about 15,000 customers in the Volunteer State were still without power. 

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) officials said restoration efforts are ongoing to repair and restore power across northern Tennessee. Clarksville Department of Electricity (CDE) sustained the most damage and system impacts, according to TVA.


CDE said 20,000 customers were without power during peak outages, which was down to 11,500 customers by Monday.

"It will still be a long road ahead," CDE wrote on Facebook. "There are 100+ poles that will need to be replaced. Crews are working rotating 24-hour shifts to quickly and safely restore power."

Homes pulled from foundations

According to the NWS, the EF-3 twister that struck Clarksville on Saturday was a long-track tornado that traveled 43 miles between its starting point in northern Tennessee and where it finally lifted in southern Kentucky. The tornado tracked for more than 11 miles in Montgomery County, destroying 114 homes and causing major damage to nearly 270 homes.

The NWS survey team found EF-2 damage near Eva Drive, where some homes were shifted off their foundations before the tornado intensified to EF-3, crossing Highway 41 and hitting several businesses and a strip mall "where only the interior remained," according to the NWS. 

The tornado caused massive damage in several neighborhoods, including on Henry Place Boulevard, where two adults and one child died after the tornado destroyed four brick homes. 

The NWS estimated nearly 1,000 homes were damaged by the tornado, with 114 destroyed and 268 with major damage. 

‘Coming right for us’

Families ran for their lives when the tornado sirens started screaming on Saturday, some barely taking cover just in time.

Trevor Zandt was outside on the porch of his home in Clarksville when the tornado sirens and the Tornado Warning alerts started blaring on his phone.

"Then I saw it, and it was just headed for us," Zandt said. "I'm running downstairs yelling, 'It's coming for us. It's coming right for us.' It was very shocking. My heart sunk in my stomach when I saw it coming right for us."

Zandt's fiancée was already getting their children into the basement when he came inside, yelling for them to take cover.

The couple said their ears popped, and they heard banging above them. When they stepped outside, "it was like a new world."


Their garage and most of their home were destroyed by the tornado, along with their children's toys. Zandt said of their neighborhood, their home isn't even the worst. The couple said volunteers and their community are already working to bring out food and help with cleanup efforts.

John Newman told FOX Weather Correspondent Robert Ray he was about a mile from Clarksville when he saw the black sky ahead and then the tornado barreling toward him. He raced to get to his daughter's home and told her to get on the floor in her bathroom.

Newman said he didn't hear the sirens until after the tornado.

Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts said the tornado warning system sirens went off as planned when the Tornado Warning was issued.

"I called 911 around 1:30 (p.m.). They said that I was the first person to call and report it," he said. "It dropped down just in a matter of seconds."

Residents like Newman and state officials say Tennessee will move forward from this incredible heartbreak two weeks before Christmas.

Newman said he plans to "trust in the good Lord and take it one day at a time."