- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

From combined dispatches

NEWBERN, Tenn. — Thunderstorms packing tornadoes and hail as big as softballs ripped through eight states, killing at least 27 persons, injuring scores and destroying hundreds of homes in the South and Midwest.

Tennessee was hit hardest, with tornadoes striking five western counties Sunday and killing 23 persons, including an infant and his grandparents and a family of four.

Most of the deaths were along a 25-mile path stretching from Newbern, about 80 miles northeast of Memphis, to Bradford, officials said. The Highway Patrol sent teams with search dogs to the area yesterday to check what remained of damaged homes and businesses for anyone who might be trapped in the rubble.

Betty Sisk grabbed her son and daughter 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,” Mrs. Sisk said yesterday. “I didn’t hear a train sound; I heard a roaring.”

Nothing remained of Mrs. Sisk’s wood-frame home but the concrete steps. Witnesses described the tornado that hit the town as “almost a mile wide.”

Seventeen other Tennessee victims were hospitalized in critical condition.

A suspected tornado battered downtown Indianapolis on Sunday night, scattering debris and chasing thousands of Final Four fans toward shelter.

“The sirens were going off, there were chairs and tables flying everywhere,” said Steve Centorcelli, a George Mason University student who was downtown at the Ram Restaurant and Brewery when the storm hit. “It was crazy.” Witnesses to the storm reported seeing funnel clouds and nickel-size hail.

“All of a sudden we heard people screaming,” said Ed Palmer, a server at the Alcatraz Brewery downtown who escaped the storm inside the restaurant. “It was raining horizontally, there was a twister in the middle of the intersection, the streetlights were flipping over. … It was insane.”

The National Weather Service in Indianapolis said wind gusts that reached more than 80 mph downed trees and power lines across the city, as well as in portions of central Indiana, but could not confirm whether the storm contained tornadoes.

Shannon Nieves, a George Mason graduate student, said she had to brave the storm to catch a bus from downtown back to her hotel.

“We ran about a mile from the Hard Rock Cafe all the way to the bus on South Delaware Street,” Miss Nieves said. “I saw lightning — a lot of lightning.”

Storms and tornadoes also struck parts of Iowa, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio and Illinois. Strong wind was blamed for at least three deaths in Missouri. A clothing store collapsed in southern Illinois, killing one man.

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

About a half-dozen tornadoes struck Arkansas and one destroyed nearly half of the town of Marmaduke, a fire department official said.

Hail 4 inches in diameter slammed through the roof of one mobile home in Arkansas, National Weather Service meteorologist Newton Skiles said.

Gary Emerling contributed to this report.

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