Originally posted at: Reuters
By Pat Harris
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Reuters) - Devastating tornadoes ripped through the eastern United States from the Great Lakes into the deep South on Sunday and early on Monday, wiping out several small towns and killing at least 30 people.
Officials warned the death toll could mount higher, with possibly hundreds injured and widespread property damage.
Tennessee appeared to be the hardest hit, with 16 confirmed deaths. Rescue workers in the mountainous eastern part of the state near Knoxville were searching at first light for another 46 people reported missing.
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.
The hamlet of Mossy Grove, Tennessee, was "completely devastated," according to Cecil Whaley of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
He listed 16 deaths in central and eastern Tennessee. Officials in Alabama counted up to nine dead and another five dead in Ohio, mostly in the northwestern part of the state.
Emergency management officials in several states reported many people trapped and injured, homes flattened, trees uprooted and power lines down, leaving thousands without electricity.
As many as nine people may have been killed and 50 others injured in Alabama as the twisters swept through the northern part of the state on Sunday evening.
"We've been hit real hard," said Luther Lapner, chief of police in the tiny community of Carbon Hill in Alabama's Walker County, which bore the brunt of the storms in the state.
"We have reports of between seven and nine people killed in the whole county," Lapner told Reuters.
WARNINGS FROM MISSISSIPPI TO D.C.
As officials battled to assess the devastation, the National Weather Service issued tornado warnings across a wide swath of territory from Mississippi through South Carolina and Virginia even Washington D.C.
The weather service's Storm Prediction Center said it had reports of 45 tornadoes since early Sunday 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 center, 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 has hard hit, and there were 46 people reported missing in that area.
"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 leveled and 18 people were taken to the hospital.
In Alabama, Highway Patrol officers, fire marshals and emergency personnel worked through the night clearing downed trees and power lines from roads and sheet metal from mobile homes. Many people were without power from the storms.
In Tennessee officials 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.