Knoxville (Tennessee), Nov. 11 (Reuters): Tornadoes ripped through the eastern United States from the Great Lakes into the deep South yesterday and early today, wiping out small towns, killing at least 30 and leaving up to 150 missing.
Officials warned the death toll could rise as rescue workers began tearing into devastated homes and other structures amid fog and continuing rain in some areas.
Tennessee appeared to be the hardest hit, with 16 confirmed deaths. Another 140 to 150 were missing, most of those — from 100 to 125 — in the mountainous eastern part of the state near Knoxville, were the tiny town of Mossy Grove was flattened.
Cecil Whaley of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said a tornado there left an area about one-and-a-half square miles around Mossy Grove “wiped out.”
“It’s mass destruction, death,” a police officer in nearby Oliver Springs told the Knoxville News-Sentinel.“Mossy Grove is destroyed.” Cold autumn air sweeping eastward in a clash with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico ignited the string of tightly coiled storms along the leading edge of the front.
Emergency management officials in several states reported homes flattened, trees uprooted and power lines down, leaving thousands without electricity. There were at least 65 injuries reported in Tennessee and another 50 in Alabama. As officials battled to assess the devastation, the National Weather Service issued severe storm advisories warnings across a wide swath of territory from Mississippi through South Carolina and Virginia into Washington DC.
The weather service’s Storm Prediction Center said it had reports of 45 tornadoes since early yesterday morning across a half-dozen states, though not all of the reports were confirmed It said the biggest concentrations in North central Alabama, East central Tennessee and north central and northwest Ohio.
Roger Edwards, a forecaster at the centre, said massive tornadic outbreaks are not unusual in November and that many of the same areas hit in the latest storms suffered damage from a similar outbreak in 1992.
Generally speaking, however, the tornado season tends to be concentrated the spring.
In Tennessee, Whaley said Morgan county in the eastern part of the state near Mossy Grove was generally hard hit.
“A tornado cut a swath a mile and a half across that area and leveled thirty to forty homes,” he said. Whaley said one of the dead was a small boy, killed in the Manchester area, where at least 20 homes were levelled and 18 people were taken to the hospital.
Officials in Tennessee said the tornadoes hit in waves, flattening mobile homes, ripping the roofs off houses, downing power lines and hurling cars into trees. Thousands of people were reported without electricity.
As many as nine people may have been killed and 50 others injured in Alabama.