Tennessee Bears Brunt of Deadly Storms

A home outside of Newbern, Tenn. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images. i i

Friends and family gather outside of the home which was picked up and carried 20 feet by a tornado while a mother and her son were inside on Monday outside Newbern, Tenn. Both survived the storm. Scott Olson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Olson/Getty Images
A home outside of Newbern, Tenn. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Friends and family gather outside of the home which was picked up and carried 20 feet by a tornado while a mother and her son were inside on Monday outside Newbern, Tenn. Both survived the storm.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Tornadoes touched down in several states this week, killing at least 27 people. The majority of those killed lived in a handful of rural counties in northwest Tennessee.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Tornados and other storms have left at least 27 people dead in eight states. Most of those killed Sunday night lived in rural Northwest Tennessee. NPR's Audie Cornish traveled down a road in Tennessee where hundreds of people ended up in the path of the storm. It's Millsfield Road, in Dyer County.

AUDIE CORNISH reporting:

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen says he's now working towards a federal disaster emergency declaration for the counties in the Northwest part of the state. Bredesen will be touring those areas today.

Governor PHIL BREDESEN (Democrat, Tennessee): We have obviously weathered the storm, and our first priority now is helping those impacted by this tragedy to get back on their feet quickly and bring some sense of normalcy to them at a time that they need it most.

CORNISH: But in Dyer County, that will be a difficult task. In the town of Dyersburg on Millsfield Road, neighbors say they lost three of their own. Charlotte Sweat says she's glad that this time she made the decision to leave when she heard the warning sirens.

Ms. CHARLOTTE SWEAT: Usually, I'll make the kids get in the bathtub in the bathroom. Well, our bathtub is over in one of the trees turned upside down, or under the staircase, and part of the staircase is over here, and part of it is down the gulley, and another part is behind. So, I'm just really glad we got out of the house.

CORNISH: Sweat returned to the neighborhood to find her two-story home had tumbled into the gulley running behind it. Her family reached for belongings that were dangling from the splintered trees in surrender. Across the street, Barbara McQuarters(ph), who's lived here for more than 20 years, says she survived her first tornado. She says she'll never forget it.

Ms. BARBARA MCQUARTERS: Popping, cracking, roaring debris, you know, and a whole lot prayers.

CORNISH: McQuarters says the wind storm came on so fast that she and her husband could not do any better than ride it out in their hallway. They watched the tornado peel the roof off as if opening a can of sardines. The walls are standing, but the interior is bare, and she's not sure if she wants to rebuild.

Ms. MCQUARTERS: It is scary, because all of my life I've heard that they follow the same path again. And you think, you know, building back. And then a few years down the road, it hit again.

CORNISH: And so, how does that make you feel now?

Ms. MCQUARTERS: It makes me feel leery building back here. But where you know where they're going to hit, you don't.

CORNISH: And across the county, trees and debris were a major obstacle in the rescue effort, according to Dyer County emergency management director, James Medling.

Mr. JAMES MEDLING (Dyer County Emergency Management Director, Tennessee): We just had a tremendous problem physically getting there before we could actually try to help the people. You know, we were using four wheelers and ATV's, things of that nature to try to get people out, you know, get them back to an ambulance.

CORNISH: More then 1,000 homes along a 25-mile stretch encompassing rural towns such as Bradford, Newbern, and Dyer were destroyed. Much of the clean up effort has been on the part of county level officials, with Tennessee State Troopers lending support in the way of body searching dogs, and some help with debris removal.

Officials here say they are still working on looking for the missing and the dead. Audie Cornish, NPR News, Dyersburg, Tennessee.

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