Massive cleanup, mourning after deadly storms kill 24 - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Massive cleanup, mourning after deadly storms kill 24

NEWBERN, Tenn. (AP) - The death toll from a swarm of tornadoes that devastated communities across eight states rose to 28 overnight with the discovery of the last unaccounted for resident in Tennessee, the governor said Tuesday.

"The wrath of God is the only way I can describe it," Gov. Phil Bredesen, said after a 40-minute helicopter survey of the storm damage.

The governor also walked around some neighborhoods destroyed by the storms and tornadoes that hit this rural section of northwest Tennessee on Sunday night.

"I have never seen anything like this, and I've been through several tornadoes. I'm used to seeing roofs off houses, houses blown over - these houses were down to their foundations, stripped clean," Bredesen said.

Bredesen said Tennessee had 24 deaths and about 1,000 homes and buildings destroyed. The latest victim was found late Monday in the rubble of a home in the Dyer County community of Millsfield, officials said. Emergency crews were still out searching for possible victims, but no one else was known to be missing, he said.

U.S. Rep. John Tanner, who accompanied Bredesen on the tour, also was mourning because his 57-year-old cousin, Janie King, was killed when a tornado destroyed her home near Newbern.

"Janie's house is just gone," a visibly shaken Tanner said. "The power of tornadoes is almost incomprehensible. When you have 20 something fatalities, that's just a number. This really puts a face to it."

The governor said he was shocked by the randomness of the storm. "You have a house that's matchstick kindling, and another one that's 100 yards away that's unruffled."

Joshua Medley and his mother clung to each other in a closet as a tornado bore down on their home. The ordeal lasted only a few minutes - but seemed like a lifetime.

"We got lifted up in the air and the house was spinning," said Medley, whose 1,500-square foot home was moved 12 feet from its foundation. "I didn't think we were going to make it."

At least 28 other people, including 24 in Tennessee, didn't survive when a series of storms ripped across eight states in the central United States on Sunday night, leaving a trail of destroyed homes and buildings.

Rescue workers were still searching for possible victims in the rubble of brick buildings and toppled mobile homes of the hardest-hit areas of Tennessee's Dyer and Gibson counties, where Gov. Phil Bredesen arrived early Tuesday for a helicopter tour.

The latest victim was found late Monday in the rubble of a home in the Dyer County community of Millsfield, officials said.

Bredesen said more than 1,000 buildings were seriously damaged or destroyed and about 75 people injured, 17 of them critically. Before departing for West Tennessee, he signed a letter asking President Bush to declare the counties federal disaster areas.

"Most of the houses, you can't count. They're just gone," said Roy Childress, who was part of a church relief crew that was delivering food and water to survivors Monday.

"Our first priority is helping those impacted to get back on their feet quickly and to bring back a sense of normalcy at a time when they need it most," the governor said.

Larry Taylor, who owns the only funeral home in this small town, planned to hold services later this week for his son and daughter-in-law and the couple's two young sons.

Brad and Tanya Taylor, and their two sons, ages 5 and 3, who were found 800 yards from their house. The family will be buried in two separate caskets, with each child alongside one of his parents. "I have to," Larry Taylor said of his task of preparing their bodies for burial. "It's peace of mind. It's my boy."

"It basically took my life away. I don't really care if I see daylight tomorrow," Taylor said. "I'd give everything I had for that not to have happened. Those little boys were my life."

The dead also included an infant and the grandparents who had been baby-sitting him.

The brunt of the storms, some packing softball-sized hail, blasted an area between the small town of Newbern, about 80 miles northeast of Memphis, to Bradford.

Bredesen said more than 1,000 buildings were seriously damaged or destroyed and about 75 people injured, 17 of them critically. He asked President Bush to declare Dyer and Gibson counties federal disaster areas.

"Our first priority is helping those impacted to get back on their feet quickly and to bring back a sense of normalcy at a time when they need it most," the governor said.

The Tennessee Valley Authority estimated that about 18,000 customers in Tennessee and Kentucky were without power on Monday.

The storms developed after a cold front approaching from the West slammed into a mass of warm, humid air, said Memphis meteorologist Jody Aaron. A tornado in Dyer County apparently had winds of 158 to 206 mph, making it an F3 on the Fujita scale used by the National Weather Service to rate tornadoes.

The weather service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said it had preliminary reports of 63 tornadoes.

Diane Wyrick had lived in the same mobile home in Bradford since 1973, but it was destroyed by the storm. She managed to escape in time, but a neighboring family of four, including a father, mother and two children, was killed.

"I just feel lost. I've been numb ever since last night," said Wyrick, 58. "I lost, but at least I didn't lose my life and that's a lot."

Betty Sisk of Newbern grabbed her son and daughter, ages 10 and 13, and took cover in a closet until the twister blew their house apart and threw them into the yard.

"By the time the sirens started going off, it was at our back door," Sisk said. "I didn't hear a train sound - I heard a roaring."

Nothing remained of Sisk's wood-frame home Monday but the concrete steps, and a neighbor's house had been blown about 30 feet off its foundations. Another nearby house was also destroyed, killing an older couple and their 11-month-old grandson.

Northwest of Newbern in the community of Millsfield, the volunteer fire department building collapsed on all four of its emergency vehicles. Firefighter David Walker said crews were able to free two of the vehicles to respond to calls for help after the storm.

The American Red Cross had a shelter set up at the First United Methodist Church in Dyer County with five emergency response vehicles to deliver meals and clean-up kits, Nashville chapter spokeswoman Amy Hall said.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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