NASHVILLE — Canadian country music star Brett Kissel says a tornado that tore through Nashville narrowly missed his condo, but left much of the surrounding neighbourhood in ruins.
Kissel, his wife and some friends watched the Edmonton Oilers beat the Nashville Predators in a National Hockey League matchup at Bridgestone Arena on Monday night, then went to a honky-tonk to enjoy some music.
"We had no idea anything was going on in any areas of Nashville, until we started to hear the sirens. They were so loud and so close that we could hear it over the music," Kissel said in an interview.
"And we thought: that's a little odd."
Tornadoes that ripped across Tennessee early Tuesday shred at least 140 buildings and killed at least 22 people. A twister that hit a 16-kilometre stretch of downtown Nashville wrecked businesses and homes and destroyed the tower and stained glass of a historic church.
Kissel, who is from Flat Lake, Alta., has lived in the country music capital since 2012 but spends a lot of time in his home province, too.
Tennessee is no stranger to twisters and Kissel said he wasn't alarmed until an emergency warning popped up on his phone saying it was not a drill and to take cover. The notification mentioned the tornado had touched down in the trendy Germantown neighbourhood, where Kissel lives.
Kissel and his wife started making their way toward home. The tornado had just torn through.
"Trees everywhere. There were overturned vehicles on the highway. There was a big semi on the interstate right by our place that was almost completely upside down."
Buildings were levelled, including an auto-parts shop down the block.
"It was just toothpicks. I couldn't believe it."
The twister got so close to Kissel's condo that cars in the parking lot had smashed windows. His unit had no power, but was otherwise fine.
Kissel was travelling to Alberta on Tuesday. On the way to the airport, he saw emergency crews along the highway, overturned vehicles and billboards signs snapped in half, he said.
"What this twister did to Nashville and did to everything in its path is unlike anything me or my wife has ever seen."
Kissel said he heard The Basement, a music venue in East Nashville, was destroyed.
Kissel was among Canadian musicians living in Nashville who held a benefit there after the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016 that destroyed 2,400 homes and buildings.
"Now The Basement has been levelled and it's nothing more than just a pile of bricks," he said. "It's pretty crazy. I'm sure a lot of people are going to rally to do something for that venue in particular."
Nashville Predators general manager David Poile, who was born in Toronto, said there was no damage to Bridgestone Arena. And as far as he knows, the storm didn't affect any team employees or players directly.
"It's really unfortunate. I've been in Nashville for 22 years. It's called the 'Volunteer State.' I didn't know what that meant when I got to Nashville," he said from the NHL GM meetings in Florida.
"It's a state where the people really support each other. This will be a huge undertaking by the whole community to get everything right and to help everybody."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 3, 2020
— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary, with files from Josh Clipperton in Boca Raton, Fla., and The Associated Press
The Canadian Press