TUPELO, Miss. — The scope is staggering. Some 75 million Americans are under threat of severe weather on Tuesday.
People from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast, and from the Midwest to the East Coast, are advised to keep their eyes to the sky and their ears to the radio. That’s a third of the country.
The greatest risk will again be in the Deep South, with Mississippi and Alabama in the bull’s-eye for the worst of the storms.
The first two days of this powerful spring storm system, which is expected to rage into Wednesday, claimed 29 lives in six states.
People across the region huddled in hallways and basements Monday as a string of tornadoes ripped through their states.
Eight people died in Mississippi on Monday, the state emergency management office said. Few additional details were immediately available.
In Tupelo, employees at a Steak Escape restaurant survived by huddling in the bathroom as the storm destroyed the building around them, Mayor Jason Shelton said.
“That was just a miracle of God,” he said.Anthony Bishop and his co-workers also had a close call when the storm hit their lube shop.
“Right as it ripped the roof off the building … we all jumped in the pit,” Bishop told WMC-TV. “Heard blocks hitting cars above me, glass flying all around the pit where we were.”
States of emergency
Two people died in Lincoln County, Tenn., near the border with Alabama.
And two more were killed at a trailer park west of Athens, Ala. A third person died in Tuscaloosa, Ala., after a retaining wall collapsed on him.
Severe weather also rumbled through the Birmingham area late Monday.
In Jefferson County, Ala., where Birmingham is located, a fire station was hit, as was a church. People were trapped for a time in the church, but no one was seriously injured, said Horace Walker, a spokesman for Jefferson County Emergency Management.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency for all counties.Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal did the same as the severe weather advanced toward his state, saying it was impossible to know where the storm might do damage.
Mississippi hit hard
Of the eight fatalities in Mississippi, one occurred in Richland, said Rankin County emergency management director Bob Wedgeworth.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said the twisters inflicted “severe damage” around the town of Louisville, about 90 miles northeast of Jackson.
Winston Medical Center, Louisville’s major hospital, was among the buildings hit.
“The Winston Medical Center has received damage from a tornado. Walls are down. Some gas leak is occurring,” Bryant said.
The storm destroyed Britney Butler’s home in Tupelo, WMC-TV reported.
“It hurts to look, because I won’t come home tonight,” said Butler, who still managed to smile after discovering her dog had come out unscathed. “Oreo means the most to me.”
Elsewhere in Tupelo, buildings near a major commercial district on the city’s north side were “wiped away,” said Scott Morris, a reporter for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
Numerous trees and power lines were down, and “quite a few buildings are destroyed up there,” Morris said.As things got ugly, Matt Laubhan, the chief meteorologist at Tupelo television station WTVA, took charge. He ordered station staff to take cover before walking off the set himself.
“Basement. Now … let’s go,” Laubhan said.
Monday’s storms were Act II of a powerful weather system that brought punishing thunderstorms to the central United States. Suspected tornadoes spawned by those storms on Sunday killed 14 people in Arkansas and one each in Oklahoma and Iowa, authorities in those states reported.
Sunday’s hardest-hit area was Faulkner County, Ark., where a suspected tornado shattered homes, tossed tractor-trailers and killed 10 people in the towns of Vilonia and Mayflower. Two children were among the dead.
Before the bad weather slammed into Arkansas, witnesses spotted a twister in the northeast Oklahoma town of Quapaw, where one person died, the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office said.
The same line of storms hit Baxter Springs, just a few miles to the north. Sixty to 70 homes and at least 20 businesses were reported destroyed, said Cherokee County emergency manager Jason Allison. A suspected tornado estimated to be three blocks wide rumbled through the town of 4,200, he said.
A sprawling storm front also hit eastern Iowa, killing a woman in the tiny community of Kinross in Keokuk County, the sheriff’s department said.
The deadly weather pattern won’t begin to subside until late this week.
On Wednesday, nearly 37 million will still be under threat of severe weather as the front eases to the east. The number drops to about 30 million on Thursday.
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