Diesel smoke filled the air as work crews used heavy equipment to clear paths through tornado-strewn debris and victims rummaged for mementos in the remains of their neighborhoods.
Clumps of yellow insulation hung from trees like Spanish moss, and the sound of helicopters, chain saws and trucks created a loud, steady rumble.
Among those searching for keepsakes in the rubble Saturday, Jenny Tuck carried a cedar chest and a photograph. "I found an old picture of my mother," she said, holding up the dirty silver frame.
Twelve deaths were blamed on the tornadoes, which weather officials said were spotted Friday in about 10 Tennessee counties.
'You could hear people yelling and screaming'
It was the second deadly storm system to hit the state in less than a week. Last weekend, thunderstorms spinning out dozens of tornadoes killed 24 people in western Tennessee and four others in Missouri and Illinois.
"After the tornadoes in west Tennessee, I said, 'Lord help us if it comes through a more densely populated area,'" Gov. Phil Bredesen said. "And then it did a week later."
Sumner County emergency officials implemented a dusk-to-dawn curfew for the areas hardest hit areas and National Guard soldiers were brought in to patrol. The worst damage appeared to be in Gallatin and other suburbs northeast of Nashville.
Steve Hurt and eight others survived by taking shelter in a fireproof room with concrete walls at Lee Electric Supply Co. in Gallatin.
"You could hear people yelling and screaming outside and the debris hitting the walls," said Hurt, who said one of his co-workers was killed.
One tornado chewed up a path about 150 to 200 yards wide and at least 10 miles long, said Jimmy Templeton of the Sumner County Sheriff's Department.
"I'm amazed we didn't have more fatalities," said Sonny Briggance, rescue chief for the Sumner County emergency management agency.
Seven people were killed in Sumner County and three in Warren County, about 65 miles southeast of Nashville. Two more people died in a Gallatin hospital, state Emergency Management Agency spokesman Randy Harris said. Hospitals admitted at least 60 people injured in the storms.
Neighborhoods wiped out
As many as 1,600 homes were damaged or destroyed in Warren and Sumner counties, according to a preliminary count, Harris said. Several multimillion-dollar homes were pulverized.
Dan Powe took cover in a crawl space with his wife, 4-year-old daughter and a neighbor as a tornado leveled his home. He said he had come home for lunch, and decided to stay after seeing the weather reports.
"The only reason those girls are safe is that I stayed home from work, because my wife told me that she wouldn't have gotten under the house," Powe said.
He hoped to salvage a boat in his garage, about the only part of the home still partially standing.
Nashville Electrical Service reported hundreds of electrical lines down and power outages affecting up to 16,000 customers, mostly in Goodlettsville. About 1,000 customers remained blacked out, and it could take a week to restore all service, the utility said.
Another line of severe thunderstorms rolled through Alabama and Georgia late Friday and early Saturday, damaging homes and businesses in Atlanta suburbs.
Two people in Alabama were injured by falling trees, but no deaths were reported. Storms also pounded southern West Virginia, blacking out more than 16,000 customers, utilities said.