Families Sift Through Rubble After Deadly Twisters It was a day of rescue and recovery in Arkansas as officials worked their way through the wreckage of Tuesday night's deadly tornadoes. The unusual mid-winter violent weather pushed through parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama — leaving at least 50 dead.
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Families Sift Through Rubble After Deadly Twisters

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Families Sift Through Rubble After Deadly Twisters

Families Sift Through Rubble After Deadly Twisters

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

At least 50 people have been killed and more than 150 injured by tornadoes that swept through five southern states last night. Dozens of twisters ran through the region making it one of the deadliest clusters of tornadoes there in nearly 10 years.

The first place the tornado touched down was near Atkins, Arkansas where NPR's Robert Smith has our report.

ROBERT SMITH: It looks like a giant bulldozer has plowed a straight line through the town of Atkins. A 40-yard wide sloth of broken trees, upended cars and shattered homes from the lake over to Interstate 40. When the tornado crossed State Highway 105, a house is now a pancake stack of walls. Four young men pry them apart.

Kimberly Verka(ph) who used to live here is in tears. She left her home minutes before the tornado hit and just came back.

Ms. KIMBERLY VERKA: I wanted my six dogs.

SMITH: There were six dogs here?

Ms. VERKA: They all made it. We just found my cat about 30 minutes ago.

SMITH: Still alive?

Ms. VERKA: Yes. So we're going to take little miracles, each and every one.

SMITH: Just over the hill, a tornado picked up a house completely from its concrete slab and smashed it to pieces. The couple who lived there and their 11-year-old daughter died outside. Police think they were going out to check on their horses. Kimberly Verka's clothes and belongings now stretched like an arrow across a field pointing north east.

Ms. VERK: We found my communion candle, we found my family Bible. We found a lot of kids' pictures. We found a lot. We found a lot. It's amazing.

SMITH: There's a sense of relief in this small town of 3,000, especially knowing that the storm system got worse as it destroyed a swath across six states.

The storm system started around five yesterday afternoon when a cold front smashed into warm weather over Arkansas. I recorded it as it went through Little Rock last night. Weather forecasters could see it coming for hours and official say the warning systems worked as plan. On the radio, newscasters tracked it mile per mile.

Unidentified Man: If there is a tornado, it will be moving in to Jefferson within the next five minutes and started again - a little bit more rotation.

SMITH: This morning at the Atkins fire house, the search and rescue team was just coming back. Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe had just flown in on a National Guard helicopter and toured the destruction and met residents.

Governor MIKE BEEBE (Democrat, Arkansas): Many of them will be hurting for many days to come and it's incumbent on all of us to pull together and be of as much help and assistance as we possibly can.

SMITH: The sheriff of Polk County Jay Winters says it was hard to even tell where some of the houses were. He didn't know if the family that was killed heard the warnings, but he says there were plenty of them.

Mr. JAY WINTERS (Sheriff, Polk Country): Like I said, I was watching TV and tracking it. And it came just the exact path they showed, and it came just about to the minute. But all that warning and it doesn't help. When a house is just absolutely blown apart, you know, there was nowhere they could have been in the house that they wouldn't have been safe.

SMITH: Winter says that the search and rescue phase is winding down now 24 hours after the storm hit and they're moving on to other pressing safety concerns. There are downed power lines all around the region and there was a gas leak south of town. The rebuilding will have to wait.

Robert Smith, NPR News, Atkins, Arkansas.

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