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4 dead as 'enormous outbreak' of apparent tornadoes tear thr

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4 dead as 'enormous outbreak' of apparent tornadoes tear thr PostSat Mar 03, 2012 12:13 am  Reply with quote  

http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/02/us/severe-weather/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

4 dead as 'enormous outbreak' of apparent tornadoes tear through U.S.

By the CNN Wire Staff

CNN) -- A powerful severe storm system moved across the United States on Friday, with a slew of apparent tornadoes from Alabama to Indiana contributing to at least four deaths and threatening even more destruction as the day wore on.

National Weather Service meteorologist John Gordon reported Friday afternoon the agency has about "half a dozen reports of tornadoes on the ground," as well as reports of "significant damage" -- stressing all the while that the worst may still be to come.

As of 6 p.m. ET, the weather service had 21 active tornado warnings, plus less urgent tornado watches that spanned 11 states.

"This is an enormous outbreak that's going on right now across Kentucky and the South," Gordon said. "It's crazy. It's just nuts right here."

Southern Indiana was particularly hard hit, with Indiana Department of Homeland Security spokesman John Erickson saying three had died in Jefferson County as a result.

In addition, Clark County Sheriff's Department Maj. Chuck Adams told CNN that one fatality has been reported apparently as a result of twisters in that county. The coroner is being called in to determine a cause of death.

Adams also said there was "extensive damage to the local high school," Henryville Junior-Senior High School, around which most of the damage is concentrated.

"We've got total devastation in the north-central part of the county (and) widespread damage from the west to the east," Adams said. "We are inundated with calls."

Aerial footage from CNN affiliate WLKY showed structures seemingly torn to shred and large swaths of trees knocked down in Henryville, about 20 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky.

Other overhead shots showed similar devastation in St. Paul, Indiana. And several officials -- including Jeffersonville, Indiana, Mayor Mike Moore and U.S. Sen. Dan Coats -- indicated that the town of Marysville suffered especially significant damage.

This all is because of a potent and widespread system that has spawned several tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service -- including at least one in Indiana's Posey County at approximately 1:43 p.m. CT (2:43 p.m. ET), plus two twisters that touched down in northeast Alabama.

In Tennessee, severe weather was responsible for critical injuries of as many as eight people in the cities of Harrison and Oolteweh, officials there said.

The storm brought golf-ball-size hail, strong winds and rain into the two northeast Alabama counties before continuing on a northeastward path into Tennessee.

Tennessee Emergency Management spokesman Jeremy Heidt said there were reports of possible tornado touchdowns in nine counties total. Damage assessment teams are "taking cover until the storms pass," though it is known that about 1,000 gallons of petroleum fuel spilled at a marina that was affected in the eastern part of the state.

"It's going to be a long night," Heidt said.

Between 40 and 50 homes in Hamilton County, Tennessee, have "significant damage that we know about," the county's Chief of Emergency Management Bill Tittle told CNN.

Reporting from that area near Chattanooga, CNN's Rob Marciano observed a continuous stretch of damage about 200 yards wide that ripped what had been brick and mortar homes down to their foundations.

Tittle said that there are 24 reported injuries and, while none of those appear to be life-threatening, he acknowledged that "we have not reached all the homes."

"We obviously have lots of debris, homes with roof damage, streets that are impassable that we have crews cutting down trees with chainsaws in order to get emergency vehicles through, and as of now our crews are just going door-to-door on foot," said Amy Maxwell, Hamilton County, Tennessee, emergency management spokeswoman.

Maxwell later said six to 10 people were at local hospitals after suffering injuries, and a triage area was set up at Ooltewah High School to treat patients on the scene.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said a touchdown of a tornado had been confirmed, though he expressed optimism that sound preparation and safety measures appeared thus far to prevent any deaths.

Survivor: 'Half the roof was coming off'
"We're just working diligently at this hour to try to make sure that everyone is accounted for," Coppinger told CNN. "And hopefully we'll be able to escape (without fatalities)."

Meanwhile, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said there have been seven injuries and about 40 homes destroyed but no fatalities after two tornadoes touched down in his state Friday morning.

"The April 27 tornado and the track of the two this morning were exactly the same," Bentley told CNN, referring to last year's twisters that left at least 238 dead.

Both Buckhorn High School in Madison County and the Limestone County Correctional Facility in an adjacent Alabama county were hit Friday.

There was also widespread damage in Madison County, the National Weather Service said, and some injuries were reported, according to a local ambulance service.

The Madison County Emergency Management Agency confirmed that a rain-wrapped tornado was spotted near the Harvest area, just northwest of Huntsville, which itself was hit hard by a tornado last year.

"The key thing that let me know it was serious was the loud wind," said Hovet Dixon of Harvey, Alabama. "It almost seemed like it was trying to lift my roof off."

This Just In: Harrisburg's path of destruction

The warden for the Limestone Correctional Facility, Dorothy Goode, said the prison was hit by the storm. All prisoners -- the facility holds about 2,200 -- were accounted for, she said.

Forecasters said the areas most at risk for twisters on Friday were southern Indiana, southern Ohio, most of Kentucky, central Tennessee, northeastern Mississippi and northwestern Alabama.

Tourist town of Branson, Missouri, hit

Storms were expected to proliferate during the afternoon, with the most likely window for tornadoes between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. ET, according to CNN meteorologist Sean Morris.

There is the potential for widespread damaging wind gusts, large hail and violent tornadoes in some areas.

iReport: Branson Hilton windows blown out

Storms are expected to begin to weaken during the late evening as they move east toward the Appalachians. The severe weather threat should diminish overnight Friday into Saturday morning, Morris said.

These tornadoes follow an earlier outbreak that began Tuesday night and left 13 dead across Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Tennessee and battered parts of Kentucky.

CNN's Nick Valencia, Carma Hassan, Moni Basu, John Murgatroyd, Melanie Whitley, Joe Sterling, Dave Alsup, Logan Burruss, Kara Devlin, Joe Sutton and Phil Gast contributed to this report.
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