"It was a pretty significant tornado," TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker said in a video released by the agency. "It did a lot of damage."
The twister's 10-mile path was mostly north and east of the heart of downtown, sparing many in the city's biggest tourism draws — the honky-tonks of Broadway, the Grand Ole Opry House, the storied Ryman Auditorium and the convention center.
Instead, the storm tore through the largely African-American areas of Bordeaux and North Nashville as well as neighborhoods transformed by a recent building boom. Germantown and East Nashville are two of the city's trendiest hotspots, with restaurants, music venues, high-end apartment complexes.
Before the storm struck more populated areas, it took aim at the abandoned facility in West Nashville. The castle-like building is the setting for scenes filmed in "The Green Mile" and "Walk The Line," and country stars' music videoes, according to FOX17.
The storm's intense winds knocked down a 40-yard section of the old prison wall, which is a foot and a half thick. A building that housed old records also was destroyed.
Piles of bricks also filled the building's courtyard, and vehicles outside were flipped over.
"This building's been here a long time. I didn't know what the future of this building would be, but it's obvious that nature can come in a few seconds and change a landscape," Parker said. in the video released by the agency. "I'm just thankful no one was hurt here."
The prison opened up its doors in 1898 and inmates often referred to the 120-acre premises as "The Walls," according to FOX17.
The facility remained open until the state shut down the prison in 1992. The site became popular as a film location until eventual decay made it a risk for production companies, according to FOX17.
State officials also released a video showing the aerial view of the destruction as crews from the Corrections Department worked to clean up the rubble.
As officials released images and video of the destruction, they encouraged people to stay away from the area. They said it'll be a few days before the area is cleaned up.
"This area right now is very unsafe. They should not come over here to look at what's going on," Parker said. "There's power lines down. There's buildings that have not been cleared as structurally sound."
The tornado passed south of Nashville's active prison facilities, but the agency told FOX17 it has emergency plans in process and is working to find solutions for employees having difficulties making it to work due to debris.
Early findings by National Weather Service survey teams indicated that the damage in Nashville and Wilson County to the east was inflicted by a tornado of at least EF-3 intensity, the agency said.
One twister wrecked homes and businesses across a 10-mile stretch of Nashville that included parts of downtown. It smashed more than three dozen buildings, including destroying the tower and stained glass of a historic church. Another tornado damaged more than 100 structures along a 2-mile path of destruction in Putnam County, wiping some homes from their foundations and depositing the wreckage far away.
The governor declared an emergency and sent the National Guard to help with search-and-rescue efforts. State emergency officials said Tuesday night there were at least 24 fatalities. Up to 38 people were also reported as missing in Putnam County.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.