MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The worst sound Eric Funkhouser said he has ever heard was a 10-second “voom” followed by a man’s screams.
A tornado hit Funkhouser’s home in Murfreesboro, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, on Friday, part of severe storms that spawned tornadoes across the Southeast blamed for three deaths and dozens of injuries.
“It sounded like seven freight trains and 22 vacuum cleaners all going at the same time,” Funkhouser said Saturday as he returned to what is left of his home and neighborhood.
Funkhouser ran outside and found his neighbor John Bryant lying in Funkhouser’s front yard, covered with blood and screaming.
“He kept saying that his wife and baby were out there with him and he had to find them,” Funkhouser said Saturday.
Twenty minutes later, Funkhouser and other survivors found Bryant’s wife, Kori, dead in the gravel driveway under debris and 9-week-old Olivia Bryant was found dead buckled into her car seat, beneath carpet and a tree.
National Weather Service officials say a preliminary report shows the tornado tore a 15-mile path through the university town of about 100,000 with winds as high as 165 mph.
Deputy City Manager Rob Lyons said 42 homes were destroyed and 140 were damaged. Several thousand customers were still without power Saturday.
More than 40 people were injured. Seven people were in critical condition Saturday afternoon, said Rutherford County Emergency Medical Services director Randy White.
John Bryant is in critical condition with a broken back, said family friend Laura Lawrence.
During a tour of the damaged areas on Saturday, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen listened to survivors share stories of how they hid in bathrooms and pantries.
Bredesen said he may request a presidential declaration of emergency after officials completely survey the area.
Church members and neighbors joined survivors in cleaning up debris, patching up roofs with blue tarps and sawing tree branches from cars and houses.
Community response has been overwhelming, Lyons said, with volunteers offering to remove debris and give donations.
“One of the things that makes Murfreesboro a great city is that we come together and help each other,” he said.