At Least 55 Killed By Swarm Of Storms In South
CBS News Interactive: Tornadoes
LAFAYETTE, Tenn. (CBS News) ― Crews searched Wednesday for more victims of deadly tornadoes that killed at least 55 people and injured hundreds more as they tore across five states, ripping off a shopping mall roof, demolishing mobile homes and blowing apart warehouses.
The victims were 28 people in Tennessee, 13 in Arkansas, seven in Kentucky and four in Alabama, emergency officials said. Among those killed were parents who died with their 11-year-old in Atkins, Arkansas, about 60 miles northwest of Little Rock. Hundreds more were injured.
The family died from trauma when their home "took a direct hit" from the storm, Pope County Coroner Leonard Krout said.
"Neighbors and friends who were there said, 'There used to be a home there,"' Krout said.
Nearby interstate 40 was closed. Roads in the region are littered with overturned vehicles, reports CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes.
Ray Story tried to get his 70-year-old brother, Bill Clark, to a hospital after the storms leveled his mobile home in Macon County, about 60 miles northeast of Nashville. He died as Story and his wife tried to navigate debris-strewn roads in their pickup truck, they said.
"He never had a chance," Nova Story said. "I looked him right in the eye and he died right there in front of me."
There are reports in Atkins, that a mobile home was flung 300 feet and a man who lived in it is still missing, reports Cordes.
CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports that people in this part of the country are accustomed to tornadoes, but aren't expecting them this early in the year.
Just five weeks into 2008, there have been more than 200 tornado sightings nationwide; compared to 59 in an average year. Not only is this an active start to the season, but a deadly one as well. In all of last year, 81 people were killed in tornados; this year that number is already up to 57.
"It's cold air and warm air colliding," CBS Early Show meteorologist Dave Price explained to Cobiella, "but the bigger the temperature disparity, the more violent that reaction can be, as we just saw."
President Bush says the U.S. government will help those affected by a string of deadly tornadoes in the South.
"Loss of life, loss of property - prayers can help and so can the government," Mr. Bush said Wednesday. "I do want the people in those states to know the American people are standing with them."
The president says he has called the governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee and assured them the administration is ready to help and to deal with any emergency requests.
He has asked state and local agencies for damage assessments to support a planned request for federal disaster relief.
The twisters, which also slammed Mississippi, were part of a spasm of winter weather that raged across the nation's midsection at the end of the Super Tuesday primaries in several states. As the extent of the damage quickly became clear, candidates including Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee paused in their victory speeches to remember the victims.
Before dawn Wednesday, the system moved on to Alabama, bringing heavy rains and gusty winds, causing several injuries in counties northwest of Birmingham. Three people were killed when a reported twister struck Aldridge Grove, in the northern part of the state near Decatur, said Brenda Morgan, deputy emergency management director in Lawrence County.
An apparent tornado damaged eight homes in Walker County, Ala., and a pregnant woman suffered a broken arm when a trailer home was tossed by the winds, said county emergency management director Johnny Burnette.
"I was there before daylight and it looked like a war zone," he said.
Northeast of Nashville, a spectacular fire erupted at a natural gas pumping station northeast of Nashville that authorities said could have been damaged by the storms. An undetermined number of people were reported dead.
Power was knocked out and the local hospital was running on generators. Only the emergency room had lights on.
Eight students were trapped in a battered dormitory at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., until they were finally freed. Tornadoes had hit the campus in the past, and students knew the drill when they heard sirens, said Union University President David S. Dockery.
At least two dormitories were destroyed. Dockery told NBC's "Today" that the drills and planning "saved those lives."
He said about 51 students were taken to the hospital and nine stayed through the night, but added "there are positive days ahead for them."
Well after nightfall Tuesday, would-be rescuers went through shattered homes in Atkins, a town of 3,000 near the Arkansas River. Around them, power lines snaked along streets and a deep-orange pickup truck rested on its side. A navy blue Mustang with a demolished front end was marked with spray paint to show it had been searched.
Outside one damaged home, horses whinnied in the darkness, looking up only when a flashlight reached their eyes. A ranch home stood unscathed across the street from a concrete slab that had supported the house where the family of three died.
Gov. Mike Beebe planned to tour Atkins on Wednesday.
In Memphis, high winds collapsed the roof of a Sears store at a mall. Debris that included bricks and air conditioning units was scattered on the parking lot, where about two dozen vehicles were damaged.
A few people north of the mall took shelter under a bridge and were washed away, but they were pulled out of the Wolf River with only scrapes, said Steve Cole of the Memphis Police Department.
In Mississippi, Desoto County Sheriff's Department Cmdr. Steve Atkinson said a twister shredded warehouses in an industrial park in the city of Southaven, just south of Memphis.
"It ripped the warehouses apart. The best way to describe it is it looks like a bomb went off," Atkinson said.
At the W.J. Matthews Civic Center in Atkins, a shelter was empty except for American Red Cross volunteers and a single touch-screen voting machine. The civic center had hosted an election precinct earlier Tuesday. Traffic was snarled on nearby Interstate 40, with tractor-trailers on their sides.
Officials do not know what started a fire at the Columbia Gulf Natural Gas pumping station near Green Grove, about 40 miles from Nashville. The blaze could be seen in the night sky for miles around, with flames shooting "400, 500 feet in the air," said Tennessee Emergency Management spokesman Donnie Smith.
The couple killed with their adult daughter were in their mobile home near Greenville in western Kentucky when a tornado went through their trailer park.
On Jan. 8, tornadoes were reported in Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Two died in the Missouri storms.
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