A dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, forced frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark Tuesday morning.
As the storm hopscotched across a large swatch of the U.S., the overall death toll was at least 28, with 11 killed in the South on Monday and 17 in the central U.S. on Sunday.
On Tuesday morning, many woke to sirens, tornado warnings, damaged property and downed trees. Forecasts showed Georgia as the next likely target, with 89 counties under a tornado watch until 11 a.m. Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee were hit with the brunt of the storm Monday.
In Mississippi, Republican state Sen. Giles Ward huddled in a bathroom with his wife, four other family members and their dog Monday as a tornado destroyed his two-story brick house and flipped his son-in-law’s SUV upside down onto the patio in Louisville.
“For about 30 seconds, it was unbelievable,” Ward said. “It’s about as awful as anything we’ve gone through.”
The dangerous weather jangled nerves a day after the three-year anniversary of a historic outbreak of more than 60 tornadoes that killed more than 250 people across Alabama on April 27, 2011.
The storm even sent staff at a TV news station running for cover. NBC affiliate WTVA-TV chief meteorologist Matt Laubhan in Tupelo, Miss., was reporting live on the weather around 3 p.m. when he realized the twister was coming close enough that maybe he and his staff should abandon the television studio.
“This is a tornado ripping through the city of Tupelo as we speak. And this could be deadly,” he said in a video widely tweeted and broadcast on YouTube.
Moments later he adds, “A damaging tornado. On the ground. Right now.”
The video then shows Laubhan peeking in from the side to see if he is still live on the air before yelling to staff off-camera to get down in the basement. “Basement, now!” he yells, before disappearing off camera himself.
Later, the station tweeted, “We are safe here.”
Weather satellites showed tumultuous clouds arcing across much of the South over the course of the day Monday.
The system is the latest onslaught of severe weather a day after a half-mile-wide tornado carved an 80-mile path of destruction through the suburbs of Little Rock, Ark., killing at least 15. Tornadoes or severe storms also killed one person each in Oklahoma and Iowa on Sunday.
Six people died in Winston County, Miss., on Monday, including a woman who perished in the day care center she owned in Louisville, county Coroner Scott Gregory told The Associated Press late Monday. Louisville is the county seat and home to about 6,600 people.
It was unclear if any children were in the day care center at the time, said William McCully, acting spokesman for the Winston County Emergency Management Agency.