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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The cleanup begins today from Friday's outbreak of late-winter storms across the Midwest and South. A seemingly nonstop barrage of tornadoes roared across rural farmland in cities all day and all night. Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia, all suffered damage. At least 32 people died. That number is expected to rise. As Erica Peterson of member station WFPL reports, some of the worst damage was in Southern Indiana.

ERICA PETERSON, BYLINE: Only an hour after one tornado tore through Marysville, Bobby Fulkerson tried to save his son's possessions. And this is the roof that you're standing on?

BOBBY FULKERSON: This is the - this was the porch roof. The porch was over to there - was there - went to there. And in other words, it's moved the whole thing over about 12 feet. It's a mess.

PETERSON: The wind is still gusting as Fulkerson picks gingerly around his son's house. He's nailing boards over the shattered windows to prevent further damage as his 10-year-old granddaughter, Laakin, pokes her head out.

B. FULKERSON: They had to keep her at school...

LAAKIN FULKERSON: Two hours.

B. FULKERSON: Two hours late. They kept - they had a lockdown on their school at Charleston there.

L. FULKERSON: And somebody on my bus told me that Marysville like is completely destroyed and I had a panic - like I panicked and started crying.

PETERSON: Marysville isn't completely destroyed, the tiny town's post office and hardware store are still standing, but the main residential areas are leveled. A four-wheel, all-terrain vehicle zooms by. With streets blocked by downed trees, this is the fastest way to get around. Rescue workers went house-to-house searching for survivors as some residents were packing up. One carries a dog, another a basketful of books. The tornado hit Marvin Tucker's home, shearing off the roof and breaking the windows.

MARVIN TUCKER: Yeah. We was in one room and it hit. Well, it - it took a dresser that was over next to one wall and just flipped it over.

PETERSON: It's a shocking scene duplicated elsewhere. In northern Alabama, a federal prison took a direct hit. Outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, homes were ripped off their foundations. In Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear declared a statewide emergency. But southern Indiana was struck particularly hard. Ten miles from Marysville, Henryville is dealing with its losses. The main street is clogged with rescue vehicles, blue and red lights flashing. Behind each barricade emergency workers check for survivors. When they move on, they mark each house with an X.

B. FULKERSON: Indiana State Police Sergeant Jerry Goodin says the job is unimaginably huge - a three-county area of destruction, with hundreds of miles of rural roads.

SERGEANT JERRY GOODIN: The worst case scenario happened for us. We had multiple tornadoes, and it happened all of a sudden. And like I said, we knew there was a possibility that this was going to happen, and we were trying to prepare. There's no way you can prepare for something like this happening.

PETERSON: Alicia Colvin stands in downtown Henryville with her 7-year-old son. She's a bus driver for the school district, and is waiting to shuttle rescue workers. She shakes her head when she talks about the town's combined elementary, junior and senior high school.

ALICIA COLVIN: The school, it's - I saw one vehicle inside of the - like the steel beams on one of the floors. There's a couple of buses that were turned over and twisted, I mean, literally popped off their axles. The gymnasium - the whole wall's gone, you can see in it. It's pretty well demolished.

PETERSON: Colvin squints through the dark. She doesn't know if her home, just outside of town, is still standing. The unknown. The frustration. The shock. It's something that thousands of others like Alicia Colvin are dealing with this morning as they try to piece their lives back together after an unbelievable day of weather destruction across the Eastern U.S. For NPR News, I'm Erica Peterson.

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