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Rescuers, Family Cope with Fatal Tornadoes in South

Becky Wilson searches through debris at her mother's house the morning after a tornado ripped through Atkins, Ark.
Rick Gershon
Getty Images
Becky Wilson searches through debris at her mother's house the morning after a tornado ripped through Atkins, Ark.

It was a day of rescue and recovery in Arkansas and other Southern states, as officials worked their way through the wreckage of last night's deadly tornadoes. At least 50 people were killed by strong storms and tornadoes that swept through the region, leaving a trail of destruction from Kentucky to Mississippi, authorities said.

In hardest-hit Tennessee, 28 people were killed, along with 13 in Arkansas, seven in Kentucky and four in Alabama, emergency officials said.

The National Weather Service posted tornado watches for parts of southern Alabama, the Florida Panhandle and western Georgia, but the storm system that spawned a deadly cluster of tornadoes in five Southern states overnight appears to be weakening as it moves eastward.


President Bush told those affected that the U.S. government will help them, and that the rest of the country is praying for them.

"Loss of life, loss of property - prayers can help and so can the government," Bush said. "I do want the people in those states to know the American people are standing with them."

The National Weather Service, which confirmed 48 deaths from the storms, said the tornados swept through Memphis, Tenn., collapsing the roof a Sears store there. In nearby Jackson, several students were trapped for a time in a dormitory at Union University.

Nearly 150 people were injured in Tennessee, which along with Arkansas was among the 24 states voting in the "Super Tuesday" presidential primaries. Several candidates expressed condolences to victims as they addressed supporters.

Among those killed were Arkansas parents who died with their 11-year-old in Atkins, about 60 miles northwest of Little Rock. The family died from trauma when their home "took a direct hit" from the storm, Pope County Coroner Leonard Krout told The Associated Press.


A tornado struck the Columbia Gulf Transmission company in Hartsville, Tennessee, and set off a natural gas fire that lit up the early morning sky, officials said.

In Arkansas, emergency services reported 13 dead across four counties.

"It's a pretty rough night in the scope of it. I don't know if I can remember when we've had as many (tornado) warnings and touchdowns," Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said by telephone.

In Kentucky, at least seven people were killed, state emergency spokesman Buddy Rogers told Fox News on Wednesday.

"We were preparing for the worst and we did get hit pretty hard — but it always could have been worse," he said.

Before dawn Wednesday, the system moved on to Alabama, bringing heavy rains and gusty winds, causing several injuries in counties northwest of Birmingham. Three people were killed when a reported twister struck Aldridge Grove, in the northern part of the state near Decatur, said Brenda Morgan, deputy emergency management director in Lawrence County.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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