Death Toll Rises After Tornadoes Hit Nashville; Music Community Reels

At least 22 died across the state. The Basement East club was among the structures destroyed, and Dualtone Records reported its office "totaled."

A man walks through storm debris
Mark Humphrey/AP/Shutterstock

As much of the city slept, a devastating tornado touched down early Tuesday in Nashville, wreaking havoc in the communities of East Nashville, North Nashville and Germantown as well as areas outside the city. At least 22 were confirmed dead through four counties in central Tennessee, with at least nine of those deaths reported in the Nashville area. An early estimate of more than 40 buildings damaged in the city was expected to rise significantly.

Speaking at a morning news conference, Governor Bill Lee confirmed the deaths and said, “There’s a really good possibility that there may be more,” referring to some unaccounted for. “It’s early yet.”

The damage could be seen in photos emerging in the middle of the night of one of the city’s largest and most popular rock clubs, the Basement East, half of which remained upright and half of which appeared to be completely flattened. Earlier in the evening, the club had hosted an election eve Bernie Sanders benefit with artists like Sarah Potenza and Lissie, but employees had cleared out by the time the tornado hit — barely.

Basement East co-owner Mike Grimes told the Tennessean that before the tornado hit the club at approximately 1:15 a.m., workers moved to safety “with seconds to spare before the roof blew off,.” He declared the building a “total loss.”

Many of the city’s country and indie music figures took to social media to mark themselves safe and offer help.

“Oh Nashville,” tweeted Kelsea Ballerini, with a broken-heart emoji. “How do we start to help? Point me in the right direction and let’s start helping and healing.” Dan + Shay simply tweeted the words “East Nashville” with a broken heart. Nashville native Reese Witherspoon tweeted that she was “heartbroken and saying special prayers for the families who lost loved ones.”

The city’s familiar tourist destinations in downtown and toward Opryland were unaffected by the devastation, as were the suburbs where country stars have historically settled. East Nashville has become the epicenter for the city’s rock musicians over the last two decades, though, with musicians and industry figures settling in to live and dine in the historic and gentrifying neighborhoods there and in the Germantown.

It was not just Nashville affected by the twisters. “We have had loss of life all across the state. Four different counties, as of this morning, had confirmed fatalities,” said Lee. “It is heartbreaking.” The city of Lebanon, south of Nashville near the I-40 freeway, was among the other central Tennessee communities hit hard.

“Me and my fam are safe but many friends aren’t so lucky,” tweeted Kacey Musgraves. “We did live right in one of the worst hit spots a matter of months ago. It’s so crazy. I’m so nervous to find out who the fatalities are. Nashville is so tight knit. 💔 I’m gonna help in any way I can.”

The indie label Dualtone Records wrote on Instagram that its office was “totaled.”