In April, when tornadoes killed more than 240 people in Alabama, it issued 688 tornado warnings and 757 severe thunderstorm warnings from Texas to New York, said Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist at the storm prediction center.
The storms have been carrying strong winds that change direction and increase in speed as they rise in the atmosphere, creating a spin, said Corey Mead, a storm prediction center meteorologist. The tornadoes develop when cold air in the storm system moving east from the Mississippi River Valley hits warm air coming north from the Gulf of Mexico, he said.
More severe storms were expected Saturday across parts of southern Georgia and northern Florida. Friday's killed 19 people in Kentucky, 14 in Indiana, three in Ohio, and one each in Alabama and Georgia.
In Washington County, Ind., residents described seeing a massive tornado come over a hill and plow through a grove of trees, which looked almost like a line of bulldozers eight wide had rolled through, crushing the land.
When Gene Lewellyn, his son and his son's 7-year-old daughter saw the tornado come over the hill, they rushed to the basement of his one-story brick home and covered themselves with a carpet. A black cloud enveloped the house.
"It just shook once, and it (the house) was gone," said Lewellyn, 62, a retired press operator.
His family was safe, but their home was reduced to a pile of bricks with sheet metal wrapped around splintered trees. Pieces of insulation coated the ground, and across the street a large trailer picked up by the storm had landed on top of a boat. Lewellyn spent Saturday picking through the debris in 38-degree cold.
"Right now, we are not sure what we are going to do," he said. "We will get out what we can get out. Hopefully, we won't have to argue from the insurance company very much."
Janet Elliott was sitting on her bed in Chattanooga, Tenn., when a severe weather warning scrolled across the bottom of the screen. She didn't hear sirens outside, but fierce winds were blowing, and her cats seemed clingy. She noticed her dogs had gotten low to the floor.
She ran to the basement and tried with all her might to pull the door shut, but she couldn't. She heard a ripping sound as the ceiling peeled off and wind wrenched the doorknob from her hand.
"I looked up and I could see the sky," she said. "I realized if I had stayed on the bed two seconds longer, I would have been sucked out or crushed."
Once the initial terror passed, a new wave of fear washed over her: Her husband had left for the store shortly before the storm hit, her 33-year-old handicapped son was likely on a bus headed home from school and one of her cats was missing. But within hours, all were found safe.
On Saturday, volunteers secured a tarp over the top of the house to keep the rain out. Waving her arm at the mess in the living room, Elliott pointed out the stone fireplace and mantle her husband had built and the antiques they collected in their decades together.
"This was more than just a house, more than just a place to flop," she said. "There was a lot of love in this house, it was special."
Suhr reported from New Pekin, Ind. Associated Press writers Kate Brumback in Chattanooga, Tenn., Tom LoBianco in Indianapolis and Bruce Schreiner in East Bernstadt, Ky., contributed to this report.
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