Damage, ‘miracle’ survival as storm rolls eastward

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VALE, N.C. (AP) — A possible tornado demolished three homes and injured 11 people in North Carolina, and tornado watches spread over three southeastern states Wednesday as a massive storm blew east after lashing the central United States.

One emergency responder said a woman and three children in rural Vale survived with only cuts and minor injuries after the storm late Tuesday tore apart their mobile home and an adjacent house.

“It was a miracle they survived,” said Leslie Bowen, an emergency medical technician who found the family standing amid the wreckage. “It was just total chaos.”

“Everywhere you walked was just debris,” she said about the town in the foothills of Appalachia.

Yolanda Corona’s family was left wondering where to live after the storm blew out their living room windows, knocked down the chimney and sent a tree through the roof.

Ten relatives were gathered in Ms. Corona’s home watching television Tuesday night when the wind hit.

“We thought we were going to die. We were just so scared. We didn’t have time to do anything. We all just listened and prayed for our lives,” Jessica Vargas, Ms. Corona’s 18-year-old granddaughter, recalled Wednesday morning.

Nobody was seriously cut. Ms. Corona suffered some cuts on her leg.

The storm, making its way through a big chunk of the nation, brought a bit of everything: strong winds, rain, tornadoes and even some snow for parts of the Midwest. A blizzard warning was in effect for parts of North Dakota, where the National Weather Service reported as much as 8 inches had fallen.

Linnea Reeves, a Walmart employee in Bismarck, N.D., said the snow already has made roads hazardous.

“The weather is not very nice out here. The winds are picking up, and it’s very snowy very slick,” Ms. Reeves said. “I’ve got my snow shovel in my car in case I get stuck.”

Down South, a swath of tornado watches stretched from central Mississippi across Alabama to north Georgia early Wednesday.

The storm tore into the Midwest a day earlier with wind gusts of up to 81 mph, snapping trees and power lines, ripping off roofs and delaying flights.

The unusual system mesmerized meteorologists because of its size and because it had barometric pressure that was similar to a Category 3 hurricane, but with much less destructive power.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the system’s pressure reading Tuesday was among the lowest ever in a nontropical storm in the mainland United States. Spokeswoman Susan Buchanan said the storm was within the top five in terms of low pressure, which brings greater winds.

The fast-moving storm blew in from the Pacific Northwest on the strength of a jet stream that is about one-third stronger than normal for this time of year, said David Imy, operations chief at the NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. As the system moved into the nation’s heartland, it drew in the warm air needed to fuel thunderstorms. Then the winds intensified and tornadoes formed.

Tornadoes whirled through Racine County, Wis., where two people were injured when a section of roof was torn off a tractor factory, and in Van Wert County, Ohio, near the Indiana border, where a barn was flattened and winds flipped over a tractor-trailer and camper. A tornado also touched down in Peotone, Ill., where three people were injured when a home’s roof came off, and twisters were suspected in several other states.

An apparent tornado on the Chickamauga Dam in Chattanooga, Tenn., caused an accident that led to the closure of the highway and injured several people.

The National Weather Service confirmed that eight tornadoes struck in Indiana on Tuesday but that no serious damage or injuries were reported. It said Ohio saw three twisters.

In suburban Chicago, Helen Miller, 41, was injured when a branch fell about 65 feet from a large tree, crashed into her car and impaled her abdomen. Doctors removed the branch, and Mrs. Miller’s husband said she asked him to hang on to it.

“She wants to save it for an art project or something,” Todd Miller told the Chicago Sun-Times. “She’s a bit of a free spirit, so I ran with it.”

Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein and Sofia A. Mannos in Washington; Karen Hawkins, Carla K. Johnson, Tamara Starks and Lindsey Tanner in Chicago; David Aguilar in Detroit; John Flesher in Traverse City, Mich.; Tom Davies in South Bend, Ind.; Jeannie Nuss in Columbus, Ohio; Doug Whiteman in Cleveland; Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee; and Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this story.


Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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