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At least 35 dead as South braces for more twisters

Severe weather possible Wednesday in Bulloch County area

At least 35 dead as South braces for more twisters

At least 35 dead as South braces for more twisters

Destroyed automobiles and remnants of...


LOUISVILLE, Miss. — Ruth Bennett died clutching the last child left at her day care center as a tornado wiped the building off its foundation. A firefighter who came upon the body gently pulled the toddler from her arms.

“It makes you just take abreath now,” said next-door neighbor Kenneth Billingsley, who witnessed the scene at what was left of Ruth’s Child Care Center in this logging town of 6,600. “It makes you pay attention to life.”

Bennett, 53, was among at least 35 people killed in a two-day outbreak of twisters and other violent weather that pulverized homes in half a dozen states from Iowa to Tennessee. The child's fate was not immediately known.

As crews in Mississippi and Alabama turned from search-and-rescue efforts to cleanup, the South braced for a third round of potentially deadly weather Tuesday. Tornadoes usually strike in the late afternoon and evening.

Bulloch County Emergency Management Director Ted Wynn urged residents to be ready for the possibility of locally severe weather.

Through Wednesday, Wynn said, “Someone in your home or business needs to monitor this weather event, and you need to take action as advised by weather sources. A weather radio will be your best source for information. … The cold front’s impact here is still uncertain, so you need to be prepared for anything. Have a safe place to go to immediately if a warning is issued.”

Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for the entire state late Monday night, effective until the threat passes. The National Weather Service office in Charleston, S.C., advised that the potential for severe weather would continue into Wednesday ahead of a slow-moving cold front.

“Unseasonably warm conditions will create an unstable environment which will support the development of strong to severe thunderstorms through the day and possibly into the nighttime hours,” the weather service said. “The strongest and most organized storms will be capable of producing damaging winds, large hail and even tornadoes.”

One of the hardest-hit areas in Monday evening’s barrage of twisters was Tupelo, Miss., where a gas station looked as if it had been stepped on by a giant.

Francis Gonzalez, who also owns a convenience store and Mexican restaurant attached to the service station, took cover with her three children and two employees in the store’s cooler as the roof over the gas pumps was reduced to aluminum shards.

“My Lord, how can all this happen in just one second?” she said in Spanish.

On Tuesday, the whine of chainsaws cut through the otherwise still, hazy morning in Tupelo. Massive oak trees, knocked over like toys, blocked roads. Neighbors helped one another cut away limbs.

“This does not even look like a place that I'm familiar with right now,” said Pam Montgomery, walking her dog in her neighborhood. “You look down some of the streets, and it doesn’t even look like there is a street.”

On Sunday evening, roughly 15 tornadoes — one killing at least 15 people in Arkansas — carved a path of destruction in the South and the country’s midsection, according to estimates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center. On Monday, around 50 tornadoes ravaged the South, the agency said.

Among those killed was 21-year-old University of Alabama swimmer and dean’s list student John Servati, who was taking shelter in the basement of a Tuscaloosa home when a retaining wall collapsed on him.

His death — and that of at least two others in Alabama — came the day after the third anniversary of an outbreak of more than 60 tornadoes that killed more than 250 people across the state.

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