Reed Arnold was watching TV on Saturday at his home in Clarksville, Tenn., when he saw a warning on his phone. He stepped outside and filmed the swiftly moving clouds and a looming tornado. Minutes later, the twister hit his neighborhood.
“One second you are sitting in your house, and all of a sudden, all this carnage happens,” he said.
A sober mood gripped Clarksville and other communities in Middle Tennessee on Sunday as crews searched for survivors and officials surveyed the damage from severe storms and tornadoes that killed at least six people in the region and injured more than 60.
The storms and tornadoes, part of a broader stretch of severe weather that swept across the South on Saturday, left a swath of destruction that included parts of Clarksville, near the Kentucky border, where three people died, and communities around Nashville, where three others were killed.
On Sunday, Clarksville, Nashville and other Tennessee cities and towns were working to clear away debris from a landscape where pink installation clung to tree limbs, children’s toys lay crumpled and flags had been shredded to ribbons
“It’s really difficult to watch what has happened, to talk to the victims, to be on the ground,” said Gov. Bill Lee at a news conference in Madison, after touring damage from the storm. Mr. Lee, who declared a state of emergency on Sunday, said the state had begun the formal process of seeking disaster aid from the federal government.
Directing his comments to those most affected by the storm, Mr. Lee said, “While we cannot erase the pain and the difficulty and the heartbreak of what’s happened to you, we can come alongside you.”
Officials in Montgomery County, which includes Clarksville, said that two adults and one child had died as a result of a tornado. Officials were conducting secondary searches and preparing for the next phase of recovery.
Jimmie Edwards, chief of Montgomery County Emergency Services, said that 62 injured people had been taken to medical facilities, including nine who were transferred to Vanderbilt University Medical Center and were in critical condition.
“This morning, we have a lot of families who are suffering,” Mr. Edwards said on Sunday.
More than 52,000 customers were without power in Tennessee, and Mayor Joe Pitts of Clarksville said in a news conference on Sunday that it may take a couple of weeks for power to be fully restored.
Residents said the midday tornado took them by surprise, giving them little time to seek shelter.
On Sunday afternoon, Eric Dzidotor visited the piles of debris in Clarksville where his home had stood. Mr. Dzidotor said he had moved into the house two years ago with his wife, their three children, his mother in-law and his brother in-law.
His mother-in-law was now in the hospital with injuries she suffered during the storm, he said. His brother-in-law, who was 26, did not survive.
During the storm, winds carried Mr. Dzidotor from the upstairs of his house to his neighbor’s yard, injuring his back. “It was like falling down from an elevator,” he said.
When he landed on the ground and the rain began to pour down, he called for his family. He pulled his daughters, ages 2, 4 and 17, from their collapsed house, one of them with an injured leg, before trying unsuccessfully to rescue his brother-in-law.
Matthew Burns got a panicked call from his wife and three children, who were working at his restaurant, Dream Wingz, in Clarksville while he was out delivering an order.
“All I heard was, ‘Get to the kitchen, get to the kitchen,’” he said.
The tornado spun Mr. Burns’s vehicle, he said. But his family was safe and the restaurant was still intact once he made it back.
“We’re still standing up,” he said on Sunday morning, after a night of serving about 1,500 chicken wings to people in shelters.
Wes Golden, the mayor of Montgomery County, called the tornado a “catastrophic event,” adding that the county would need a lot of resources and time to recover. Schools in the county will be closed on Monday and Tuesday, he said.
“We’ve been on the ground, and we’ve seen first hand neighbors helping neighbors,” Mr. Golden said, choking with emotion. “I’ve never been so proud to be mayor.”
In Clarksville, Rachel Tunstall and her husband were pulling their cars out from under what had been their roof on Sunday, just two months after they got married and moved into their apartment.
“This was our bedroom,” Ms. Tunstall, 33, said, pointing to a space now missing a wall and a ceiling.
Minutes after seeing the tornado warning on her phone, Ms. Tunstall had heard the winds, felt pressure in her ears and told her husband they needed to shelter in their downstairs half-bathroom. On Sunday, outside what was left of her unit, she packed plastic containers with items that could be salvaged, including Christmas ornaments that the newlyweds had recently hung.
“My husband and I are both OK,” Ms. Tunstall said, “and that is the blessing.”
Damage from the storms was also reported in Kentucky and in Alabama, where high winds tore down trees and hail the size of Ping-Pong balls rained down.
Severe weather also made its way through Mississippi, hitting areas southeast of Jackson, and the Florida Panhandle. While it might seem odd to think of tornadoes at this time of year, an average of 43 tornadoes are reported every December across the United States, typically across a cluster of southern states.
In Davidson County, which includes Nashville, officials said three people had died as a result of the severe weather. Mayor Freddie O’Connell of Nashville declared a state of emergency for the city and for Davidson County, allowing the area to quickly receive state and federal resources.
During a news conference on Sunday, Mr. O’Connell said that 26,000 customers in Nashville did not have power. An official with Nashville Electric Service said that Hendersonville — which is just northeast of Nashville and suffered extensive damage — will have prolonged outages. Officials said they did not know the number of storm-related injuries.
Three weather-related injuries, including a head injury, were reported in Dresden, Tenn., west of Nashville, said Ray Wiggington, the emergency management director for Weakley County. At least one mobile home was flipped over, he said.
All of the injuries occurred on a single road in Dresden, he said, adding that it was unclear whether the damage had been caused by “an actual tornado or just straight-line winds.”
He said that a powerful EF3 tornado, which has winds of 136 to 165 miles per hour, “hit almost in the exact same area” in December 2021, adding, “That’s on everybody’s mind.”
Emily Cochrane, Judson Jones, Lola Fadulu and Johnny Diaz contributed reporting.