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Hard-Hit Tennessee Communities Work To Recover From Tornadoes

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's get an update on Cookeville, Tenn., a city of about 34,000 people in Putnam County, the area struck by an EF-4 tornado earlier this week. County officials say more than a dozen people were killed. Ricky Shelton is the mayor of Cookeville and flew over his city in a helicopter to see the damage.

RICKY SHELTON: You just see the trees are just laying down. Houses gone, and all you see is concrete foundations. Our road crews were having to take heavy equipment to bulldoze their way through these streets because they were covered in trees and power lines and poles.

INSKEEP: The winds reached at least 170 miles per hour, blowing some people's most important possessions miles away.

SHELTON: The debris field is many, many miles of things that were carried. I found pictures in our yard - photographs of people.

INSKEEP: The wedding photo of one young couple who died in the tornado with their child has also been found, tattered, miles away from their house. Mayor Shelton has set up an artifact center in the town where people can drop off these kinds of memories, and he plans a memorial.

SHELTON: It's a very tough situation - a lot of loss of life, obviously, loss of property. But, you know, through this, the resilience and the humanity and the sheer community spirit, we - yesterday, we decided we would allow, you know, people willing to volunteer and come in. And, you know, 2,500 people show up, and it was awesome. You know, just things like that, you look, and you see reminders of hope through a devastation like that.

INSKEEP: Ricky Shelton, mayor of Cookeville, Tenn. He was leading the recovery efforts after tornadoes ripped through his town earlier this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHALE FALL'S "THE APARTMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.