Tornadoes Tear Through South, Add to US Death Toll
A dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, forced frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark Tuesday.
As the storm hopscotched across a large swath of the U.S., the overall death toll was at least 29, with 12 killed Monday and 17 Sunday in a band stretching from Oklahoma to Alabama. Forecasts showed the storm continuing to move east Tuesday, with Georgia and Alabama residents waking to sirens, howling wind and pounding rain.
Others found their loved ones missing and their homes pulverized. Along Mississippi Highway 397 on the eastern edge of Louisville, firefighters picked through the remains of mobile homes, searching for three people unaccounted for after a tornado tore through. Twenty firefighters linked hands and waded through an area where wood frame homes had also been heavily damaged. Rescue workers stepped gingerly over downed power lines and trees that were snapped in half and stripped of branches.
The Louisville tornado caused water damage and carved holes in the roof of the Winston Medical Center. The emergency room was evacuated Monday.
"We thought we were going to be OK, then a guy came in and said, `It’s here right now,"’ said Dr. Michael Henry, head of the emergency room. "Then boom ... it blew through."
Republican state Sen. Giles Ward huddled in a bathroom with his wife, four other family members and their dog as the tornado destroyed his two-story brick house in Louisville and flipped his son-in-law’s SUV upside down onto the patio.
"For about 30 seconds, it was unbelievable," Ward said. "It’s about as awful as anything we’ve gone through."
Officials said seven people died in Winston County, where Louisville is the county seat, with about 6,600 people. Another person died in Mississippi when her car either hydroplaned or was blown off a road during the storm in Verona, south of Tupelo, Lee County Coroner Carolyn Gillentine Green said.
One of the seven victims in Winston County was a woman who died in the day care center she owned in Louisville, county Coroner Scott Gregory told The Associated Press late Monday. Authorities were returning to the center Tuesday.
One seriously injured child was evacuated, said state Rep. Michael Evans, D-Louisville, who is acting as a liaison for the county. The child’s condition was not known Tuesday. Evans said authorities don’t think any other children were in the center during the storm.
"No other parents have shown up to say, `My child was at the daycare.’ That’s why we think the day care is fine," Evans said.
In Tupelo, a community of about 35,000 in northeastern Mississippi, every building in a two-block area was damaged, officials on the scene said.