Tennessee’s governor viewed damage on Saturday in areas hit by severe storms that spawned tornadoes across the southeastern US, killing three people and injuring dozens.
James LaRosa, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said on Saturday morning that they were focusing on confirming the size and severity of the storms in Murfreesboro.
“I am astonished,” Governor Phil Bredesen said following a helicopter tour of the area in central Tennessee where a mother and her infant were killed.
“Where it hit is very, very intense,” Bredesen said.
An initial report of the damage said about a 100 homes were destroyed and another 150 had significant damage.
On Saturday, church members and neighbors joined survivors in cleaning up debris, patching up roofs with blue tarps and sawing tree branches from cars and houses.
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 on 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 on Friday, state Emergency Management Division spokesman Derrec Becker said.
But the damage from the storm system was worst in Rutherford County, Tennessee, some 50km 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 nine-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.
Rescue teams concluded a five-hour search on 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.
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 219kph descended on the western Arkansas hamlet of Mena, leaving at least three dead, injuring 30 and destroying or damaging 600 homes.
There, emergency officials were trying to collect ice chests and tarps to prepare for another round of storms projected to hit the area yesterday.
Crews have already used 1,000 tarps to cover damaged roofs, and workers are struggling to keep perishables refrigerated because power is still out in Mena.