A tornado killed a woman and her nine-week-old infant and also injured at least 30 on Friday in central Tennessee as a line of storms lifted homes, ripped off roofs and dumped hail in the southeast.
Elsewhere, a tornado touched down in southwestern Kentucky, injuring two people and destroying homes. A possible tornado was reported in northeast Alabama. And large hail began falling in several North Carolina counties.
Three dozen people were hurt in Rutherford County, Tennessee, four of them critically, in the aftermath of a storm system that killed three in western Arkansas a day earlier.
“I think we’re right in the middle of tornado alley these days,” said Dan Goodwin of the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department.
Dispatchers at the Rutherford County Emergency Management Agency said the area had been “heavily impacted” after several eyewitness reported of a tornado on the ground at about midday.
In Murfreesboro, 50km southeast of Nashville, at least three dozen homes were destroyed.
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,” Piro said. “She was right beside the driveway, about 20 feet [6m] 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,” he said.
Kori Bryant, in her mid-20s, and nine-week-old Olivia Bryant were identified as the dead.
“They were found outside of the residence,” rescue official Randy White said. “It looked like they were trying to get to the car. The infant was in a car seat.”
Joe Spencer, 23-year-old student, said he 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 and ran to the bathroom.
“The bathtub started shaking, and I just tried to grab hold to anything I could. I grabbed the nozzle and turned on the water,” said Spencer, who was shaken but uninjured.
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 believed 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.