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At least 24 dead after tornadoes strike Tennessee

The storms moved so quickly that many people in their path could not flee to safer areas.

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Two men look at damage in Cookeville, Tenn (Wade Payne/AP)

Two men look at damage in Cookeville, Tenn (Wade Payne/AP)

Two men look at damage in Cookeville, Tenn (Wade Payne/AP)

The number of deaths from devastating tornadoes in Tennessee has risen to 24.

The twisters that struck in the hours after midnight shredded more than 140 buildings and buried people in piles of rubble and wrecked basements.

The storms moved so quickly that many people in their path could not flee to safer areas.

State emergency officials, who initially reported at least 25 dead, revised the toll to 24 fatalities on Tuesday evening after determining one death counted earlier was not storm-related.

“It hit so fast, a lot of folks didn’t have time to take shelter,” Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter said.

“Many of these folks were sleeping.”

The governor declared an emergency and sent the National Guard to the county to help with search-and-rescue efforts.

Early findings by National Weather Service survey teams indicated that the damage in Nashville and Wilson County to the east was inflicted by a tornado of at least EF-3 intensity, the agency said.

One twister wrecked homes and businesses across a 10-mile stretch of Nashville that included parts of downtown.

It smashed more than three dozen buildings, including destroying the tower and stained glass of a historic church.

Another tornado damaged more than 100 structures along a two-mile path of destruction in Putnam County, wiping some homes from their foundations and depositing the wreckage far away.

Daybreak revealed landscapes littered with blown-down walls and roofs, snapped power lines and huge broken trees, making many city streets and rural roads impassable.

Schools, courts, transit lines and an airport were closed. More than a dozen polling stations were also damaged, forcing Super Tuesday voters to wait in long lines at alternative sites.

The death toll climbed steadily as first responders gingerly pulled apart wreckage.

PA