Storms kill more than two dozen

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 11, 2002


-- Emergency crews searched for survivors early Monday amid the wreckage from a series of pulverizing storms that barreled through more than a half-dozen states, killing at least 33 people and injuring more than 100.

The wide band of storms, including several tornadoes, stretched from Louisiana to Pennsylvania, with Tennessee and Alabama the hardest hit Sunday. The death toll included 16 in Tennessee, 10 in Alabama and five in Ohio. Pennsylvania and Mississippi reported one death each.

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Some 45 people were unaccounted-for in the rural Tennessee community of Mossy Grove, officials said.

A tornado cut a swath five to six miles long just before 9 p.m. Sunday, killing at least seven people in the town about 40 miles west of Knoxville. Emergency crews relied on ham radio operators for communication since phone lines were knocked out by the storm.

Authorities were kept away from assessing much of the damage because toppled trees and power lines blocked roadways, and they feared the death toll would rise as daybreak revealed the extent of the devastation.

''It's mass destruction, death,'' said Ken Morgan, an officer in nearby Oliver Springs. ''Mossy Grove is destroyed.''

Carbon Hill, Ala., was in a similar situation as a nighttime swarm of storms belted the area and sent giant hardwood trees crashing down on small houses and mobile homes.

''I reckon about a third of the town is gone,'' said Terry Murray, part of a crew surveying the extent of the damage.

The tornadoes flattened dozens of homes throughout the region and left tens of thousands without power. Winds hit an estimated 140 mph in Tennessee and the storms carried torrential rain and golf-ball-sized hail.

Unseasonably high temperatures Sunday in the 80s, followed by a cold front, made conditions ripe for tornadoes, which are not unusual this time of year, said Gene Rench, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Memphis.

The injured included at least 55 people in Tennessee, 50 in Alabama, 21 in Ohio, about 30 in Mississippi, four in Georgia and two in Pennsylvania, authorities said.

Several people died as they became trapped in cars and homes, while others frantically tried to escape the churning storms.

''I heard a roar. I saw a black wall,'' said Jon Cross, who was packing his cruiser to go to work as a State Highway Patrol trooper in Ohio. ''I could see everything spinning. It was coming right at me.''

Gov. Bob Taft declared a state of emergency Sunday night in Van Wert and Ottawa counties, but the storms caused problems around the state.

In Alabama, nine people died in Walker County as a line of thunderstorms packing high winds and spinning off tornadoes rolled through the northern part of the state, said Walker County Deputy Coroner Bob Green.

Another person died in Cherokee County near the Georgia line, said Beverly Daniel, assistant director for emergency management services.

Green was at the scene where the bodies of two women were found: ''They were laying down off the side (of a road),'' he said.