- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

MURFREESBORO, TENN. (AP) - A reported tornado killed two people and injured at least 30 Friday in central Tennessee as a line of storms that killed three people a day earlier in western Arkansas crept into the South, emergency officials said.

Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Donnie Smith confirmed the deaths Friday in Murfreesboro, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville.

Dispatchers at the Rutherford County Emergency Management Agency said the area has been “heavily impacted” after several eyewitness reports of a tornado on the ground at about midday.

Elsewhere, a tornado touched down in southwestern Kentucky, injuring two people and destroying a mobile home. Large hail began falling in several North Carolina counties.

Angie Boyd-Chambers, a spokeswoman for Middle Tennessee Medical Center, said the two were dead when they arrived at the hospital. She couldn’t provide their ages or names.

The hospital treated 35 people but Boyd-Chambers did not have details on how seriously they were hurt.

Joe Spencer, 23, a student at Middle Tennessee State University, said he had only moments to react but survived a direct hit on his house.

“I was going to open the door to see what was going on and I looked straight at a tornado,” Spencer said.

He yelled at his brother to take shelter in one of the home’s bathrooms and then ran to the other, jumping into the bathtub while holding his dog, LLoyd.

“The bathtub started shaking, and I just tried to grab ahold to anything I could. I grabbed the nozzle and turned on the water,” Spencer said. Hours later, he was still wet up to his knees.

Spencer, his brother and dog were shaken but uninjured. Outside, the storm’s power was apparent. The roof over the living room of the house was gone and the rest of the roof was caved in.

Friday afternoon, search teams fanned out across Murfreesboro, a city of about 100,500, looking for anyone trapped in homes. Clyde Atkinson, spokesman for the Murfreesboro Police Department, said he believes there were three to five touchdowns mostly in the northern and western parts of the city.

A grocery store evacuated customers into a cooler until the storm passed.

Roofs were ripped away from at least a dozen homes, and some trees were blown down. A bulldozer was clearing tree limbs and other debris from streets.

Several homes were emblazoned with a spray-painted “c,” indicating emergency crews had checked them.

Thousands of utility customers lost power.

On Thursday night, a black funnel cloud descended on the western Arkansas hamlet of Mena, killing at least three, injuring 30 and destroying or damaging 600 homes.

“This one popped out of nowhere,” said Polk County, Ark., Sheriff Mike Oglesby.

As daylight broke Friday in Mena, pink insulation hung like cherry blossoms from the sheared branches of century-old maples. The roof of a two-story home sat atop the rubble that once was the floors beneath it, a set of women’s clothes still hanging from a suspended closet rack.

Oglesby said search-and-rescue teams had combed through the city’s downtown and a neighborhood just west that sustained the brunt of the storm without finding any other victims. The sheriff said he had no reports of anyone else missing in the city of 5,700 in the Ouachita Mountains.

An initial survey of the damage suggests the tornado packed winds of at least 136 mph, weather service forecaster John Robinson said Friday.

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