- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. | Gov. Phil Bredesen viewed damage in areas hit by severe storms that spawned tornadoes across the Southeast, killed three and injured dozens, calling it “very sad.”

“My thoughts and prayers are with them,” Mr. Bredesen said following a helicopter tour of the area in central Tennessee where a mother and her infant were killed.

Rescue teams concluded a five-hour search Friday night for survivors who may have been trapped in the rubble, but no more victims were found, said Donnie Smith, a spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

James LaRosa, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said Saturday morning that the weather service was focusing on confirming the size and severity of the storms in Murfreesboro.

An initial report of the damage said about 100 homes were destroyed and another 150 suffered significant damage, Mr. Smith said.

Clyde Atkinson, spokesman for the Murfreesboro Police Department, said he believes there were three to five tornado touchdowns, mostly in the northern and western parts of the city of about 100,000.

Reports of destruction were widespread across the region Friday, with funnel clouds spotted in Kentucky and Alabama and devastating winds, huge hail and heavy rain reported in several states.

In South Carolina, a driver trying to avoid storm debris in the eastern part of the state was killed Friday, state Emergency Management Division spokesman Derrec Becker said.

But the damage was worst in Rutherford County, Tenn., some 30 miles southeast of Nashville.

At least 41 people were injured there, four of them critically. In Murfreesboro, at least three dozen homes were destroyed. Roofs were peeled from at least a dozen homes, and a bulldozer cleared limbs and other debris from streets.

The bodies of Kori Bryant, in her mid-20s, and 9-week-old Olivia Bryant were found near their driveway. The mother was apparently trying to get her baby into a car - both were found outside, and the infant was in a car seat, rescue official Randy White said.

Andrew Piro, 23, who was on his way to work when the tornado struck, told the Knoxville News-Sentinel he came upon a man who said his brother's wife and child were missing.

“Outside under the rubble, we found the wife,” Mr. Piro said. “She was right beside the driveway, about 20 feet away from the house. She was under a bunch of wood, I guess part of the roof. We found the baby strapped into a car seat, about another 20 feet away under a tree. It broke my heart.”

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,” Mr. Spencer said.

In southwestern Kentucky near Mannington, State Trooper Stu Recke said one person suffered a broken hip and leg while another suffered a broken ankle. Both were taken to a hospital for treatment, Mr. Recke said. The tornado there ripped homes from their foundations.

Several possible tornadoes were reported in north Georgia as heavy rain, hail and winds downed trees and power lines.

On Thursday night, a black funnel cloud packing winds of at least 136 mph descended on the western Arkansas hamlet of Mena, killing at least three, injuring 30 and destroying or damaging 600 homes.

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