LAWRENCEBURG, Tenn., May 18 -- Officials said at least 47 tornadoes ripped through central Tennessee on Thursday, cutting a path of destruction that left three people dead and at least 55 injured. The worst hit area was in Lawrence County, in south-central Tennessee, where two houses collapsed near the small town of Ethridge.
Two people died in one of the houses, one died in the other. Twenty people in the area were injured, some critically. In Nashville, a twister was blamed for the collapse of a roof at the Rivergate Shopping Mall. More than a dozen people were hurt. 'We have property damage in 15 counties, and injuries spread throughout the state,' said Cecil Whaley of the state Emergency Management Agency. Most of the tornadoes touched down in thinly populated, farming areas. The mall on the north side of Nashville was the only spot where a twister struck a populated area, Whaley said. But the National Weather Service was continuing to post tornado warnings for the state late Thursday, and officials feared more damage. More than one-third of the roads in Lawrence County were closed because of downed power lines, uprooted trees and debris from smashed buildings. Several major highways in other parts of the state also were closed. The Ethridge area is home to many Amish farmers. Whaley said some farmers had sustained building damage, but it was unclear whether the houses that collapsed were occupied by Amish. National Weather Service Meterologist Derrel Martin said his office began posting tornado warnings around midday in the western part of the state, and continued with warnings all afternoon and evening. Heavy weather was threatening the Knoxville area, at the eastern end of the state, late Thursday. 'It's been a busy day,' Martin said.