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Crushed by a tornado, Nashville picks up the pieces

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Nashville is accustomed to a bit of noise: roaring crowds, booming instruments and sonorous singing.

But the deafening tornado that tore apart the Music City just after midnight on Tuesday was unexpected. In the cover of night, it carved a 53.4-mile path, taking landmarks and lives with it. When the sun rose that day, Tennessee discovered 24 people dead and hundreds of homes and businesses inhabitable or gone altogether.

In one of the hardest-hit Nashville areas, Five Points, known for its chic shops, thriving dive bars and delicious bites, signs and trees were plucked from the ground, roofs were peeled from walls, and businesses were smashed beyond recognition.

The twister was rated an EF-3 with maximum winds estimated at 165 mph — one mile per hour shy of the threshold for the EF-4 category.

On Tuesday, stunned residents stumbled through the shambles, witnessing the record-setting damage inflicted on their town. Pedestrians carried flashlights to see the wreckage before dawn. Driving was near-impossible as debris speckled streets.

The eclectic neighborhood was one of the city’s most visited areas. Within a compact radius, visitors frequently meandered through shops and galleries, grabbed grub at eateries, and listened to one of the city’s many country music acts perform at venues. | Basement East, an iconic music venue in Nashville, was nearly flattened. One wall that persisted has an “I believe in Nashville” red, white and blue mural painted on it.

One of the oldest buildings damaged in the historic area was East End United Methodist Church. The congregation bought that parcel on the corner of 13th and Holly streets more than 100 years ago, according to the church’s website.

On Tuesday, the corner was littered with bricks and cinder blocks from the walls of the church. Stained-glass windows had been blown out.

Despite the pervasive destruction, most Nashville residents took refuge in time. But not everyone could.

Michael Dolfini, 36, and Albree Sexton, 33, were struck and killed by debris in Five Points, just as they left the Attaboy lounge, where Dolfini worked, the Metro Nashville Police Department announced Tuesday morning. Sexton had died at the scene, while Dolfini died after arriving at a hospital.

About 40 buildings in Nashville alone were flattened, the city’s fire chief told reporters on Tuesday. Even a day after surveying the damage, city officials still weren’t sure how to quantify the amount of damage caused — or how much it would cost to repair.

“The numbers are so huge,” Fire Chief William Swann said on Wednesday. “We’re just trying to get our arms wrapped around it.”

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