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Gore consoles storm-ravaged Tennesseans

damaged building and car
Buildings and cars suffer the most damage in the Nashville tornado  
Tornado activity in Nashville
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3.1 M / 58 sec. / 240x180
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Nashville damage 'could have been an awful lot worse'

April 17, 1998
Web posted at: 10:52 p.m. EDT (0252 GMT)

NASHVILLE (CNN) -- Residents of Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky spent Friday assessing the damage and beginning the cleanup after Thursday's violent storms.

Vice President Al Gore toured Nashville, where at least two tornadoes tore through the heart of the city, damaging 300 to 400 buildings downtown and perhaps as many as 500 homes in residential areas to the east.

"I'm truly inspired by the way the community has pulled together," said Gore, a Tennessean. "This could have been an awful lot worse than it was."

Despite the extensive damage in Nashville, no one was killed. At least 80 people were injured, including six Vanderbilt University students who were attending a picnic in a park when the storm hit. Senior Kevin Longinotti was in critical condition, suffering abdominal injuries after being struck by a falling tree.

However, in other parts of the state and region, the storms were deadly. Six people died in three Tennessee counties -- Dyer, Wayne and Bradley. Two died in a tornado in Manila, Arkansas, and three died in southern Kentucky.

Gore recalls 1974 tornado

During his visit, Gore recalled how he and his wife, Tipper, were living in Nashville in 1974 when a tornado struck the city. He was a newspaper reporter at the time and returned home to find his wife huddled with their baby daughter.

Gore in Nashville
Gore speaks with Nashville residents about the tornado  

"That's been 24 years ago, but I know, just recalling that experience, what awful feelings families can have going through something like that," he said.

Bill Alexander, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Silver Spring, Maryland, said early data indicate that the Nashville twisters were between F-3 and F-4 on the Fujita scale, used to measure the severity of tornadoes.

An F-0 tornado is the least intense; F-5 is the most destructive. An F-4 tornado has winds as high as 260 mph.

Churches hit; Hermitage loses old trees

The twisters heavily damaged two of Nashville's historic churches, St. Ann's Episcopal and Tulip Street United Methodist. Two schools were also damaged, as was the Tennessee Oilers' new stadium under construction downtown.

"It looks like the Jolly Green Giant [came] over here and started stepping on everything," said Kim Yunker, a stadium worker who saw the tornado hit.

The Hermitage, the historic estate of former U.S. President Andrew Jackson, lost at least 100 trees, some dating to the 1700s. But the home itself sustained only minor damage.

At Cornelia Fort Airport, 30 private planes worth about $3 million were destroyed, scattered along the taxiways like haphazardly discarded toys.

'Where's Charlie?' shirts benefit victims

Amateur video shot of the Nashville tornadoes includes the dramatic "Where's Charlie?" footage
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1.3 M / 14 sec. / 240x180
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Charlie's mother saw funnel cloud and immediately started screaming for her son  

For one family lucky to escape the storm's wrath, Thursday's events have led to some notoriety.

Regina Vaughn was filming the storm from the front porch of her family's home in Lebanon, a city east of Nashville, hoping to show her husband some "unique clouds" when he came home from work.

But without warning, a tornado formed and came down. She began to panic when she realized that her son, Charlie, was not in the front yard and can be heard on the tape yelling, "Charlie! Charlie!"

Charlie Vaughn heard his mother's screams and came home -- and become something of a celebrity when the dramatic tape aired on CNN.

Now, Charlie's father, David, tells CNN that the family is selling "Where's Charlie?" T-shirts, at $10 each, with the proceeds going into a trust fund for tornado victims administered by a local bank.

Insulation saves woman in twister's path

Another Nashville resident, Carol Williams, came away from the storms with an incredible story of survival.

Trapped in her car as the tornado bore down on her, she forced open the car door and threw herself down on the ground, clinging to fencing surrounding the Oilers' stadium site.

As the tornado passed overhead, a piece of fiberglass insulation plastered itself to her body, shielding her from flying glass and debris.

"I never liked the feel of insulation before, because it itches, you know. But laying down there on the ground, it felt really good," she said.

Badly shaken, but with only a scratch on her finger, she drove home.

Correspondent Martin Savidge and Reuters contributed to this report.


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