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Deadly Tornadoes Rip Across South

Aired February 6, 2008 - 12:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Deadly tornadoes rip across five southern states. Hardest hit, Tennessee, with more than 20 people dead. In all, at least 48 people were killed. More than 100 others injured.
Welcome, everyone, to a special edition of CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm Tony Harris.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.

Devastation in the nation's midsection and parts of the South today. Residents are reeling after a deadly line of tornadoes ravaged five states overnight.

Destruction from the storms is massive and widespread. Look at this damage now, a shopping mall devastated in Memphis, Tennessee.

At least 10 people were killed in Macon County alone. That is north of Nashville.

In Arkansas, more than a dozen lives were lost as a storm slammed through six counties there. The National Guard has been called out to help rescue people who may be trapped, and a state of emergency has been declared in Kentucky after the storms killed seven people there. National Guard troops are pitching in to help residents.

Damage or deaths also reported in Alabama and Mississippi.


COLLINS: We want to take a moment now to go to Julie Oaks. She's with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. She's joining us now by phone from Nashville.

Julie, as we continue to look at the devastation here, your state lost so many lives.

JULIE OAKS, TENNESSEE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: We did. We actually have just updated our numbers. There is now 26 people confirmed dead in Tennessee. Three of those in Shelby County. Still the hardest hit county remains Macon County, which is northeast of Nashville, where we've had at least 10 fatalities.

COLLINS: Wow. Are people -- we've been hearing so many reports of the rescue crews and the people going through all of the debris, really just having to walk through these neighborhoods again. It's just stunning. I have to stop and look at this video, because we're looking at it coming in from Memphis, Tennessee, just buildings destroyed, little pieces of wood everywhere, and just barren land in some places.

Julie, are they still going door to door to make sure that people are out of those homes and are all right?

OAKS: We are still assessing whether we have people that are in need of any assistance at this point. Particularly, again, in Macon County.

That area had pretty widespread devastation, especially from the city of Lafayette East -- excuse me, city of Lafayette West. We have just a tremendous amount of devastation there. At least 65 injuries and, as I said, 10 fatalities. That appears to be one of the hardest hit areas.

But all across the state, from West Tennessee to middle, we have crews out working.

COLLINS: I imagine they are working very hard to help everybody out the best that they can at this point.

What have you been hearing from people as they come back and maybe are reporting in from the scene? What are they telling you about the residents of Tennessee?

OAKS: Of course, our residents, particularly in Jackson...

COLLINS: Sure, where the university is. Just in case people are just joining us, that's where Union University is, and so much devastation there as well.

OAKS: Yes. And I think one of the interesting things about this is we've talked to a number of people who said we were ready. We've had so many tornadoes that have touched down in Jackson.

Unfortunately, we know the drill. We knew what to do, we knew where to go, and I think that's probably why we've seen a lower number of fatalities in that county. People heeded the warning and took cover.

COLLINS: Well, thank goodness for that. In fact, in one of the other states we had -- actually, no, it was in your state. In Shelby County, in fact, we heard reports that the sirens had been going off for about two hours. So, hopefully that certainly made the situation the best that it could be when something like this -- something as strong and powerful...

OAKS: Absolutely.

COLLINS: ... as Mother Nature comes through.

OAKS: I had a call last night from a coworker who was out in the Haywood County area where there were 25 tractor-trailers that she said were literally just picked up, twisted, and tossed aside like they were toys.

COLLINS: Julie, where were you when all of this happened? Tell us about your personal experience.

OAKS: I was here in Nashville. We made the emergency operation center operational around 6:30 last night. I arrived here around 8:00, and that's where I was during the storms.

COLLINS: All right. Well, we appreciate your account of things.

Coming to us from the Tennessee Emergency Management, Julie Oaks, who has also updated that confirmed death total in the state of Tennessee, up now from 24 to 26.

HARRIS: Well, search and rescue teams are going door to door in several Arkansas communities looking for victims.

Our Dan Lothian is in the town of Atkins, about, oh, 60 miles northwest of Little Rock.

And boy, Dan, one of the stories we received not too long ago from Van Tyson -- he is the editor of "The Atkins Chronicle" -- he told us about a couple and their adult daughter killed by the storm. Just very sad.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is. That happened actually up the road from where we are standing. And, you know, as you go through this community, it is difficult to find areas that haven't been touched by the tornado. This area here, all of the homes wiped out.

Look at these trees. Large trees just uprooted, knocked down. But I want to show you this house over here.

The Austin (ph) family lived in that house. At the time when the tornado came through here, they had the grandmother, they had a 4- month-old baby, and also a young boy who has some special needs.

They huddled in the center of the house, in a bathroom in the center of the house, and one of the rescue workers were telling me that there really is a miracle that they survived. The towels were still hanging on the racks inside the bathroom. The bathroom area untouched.

They were able to survive, escape, from that house. But I'm telling you, the devastation everywhere -- just here to my left you'll see there is a pocket, a hole there where a giant tree was.

And across the street, this family, they lived not far away from here a few years ago and their home was burned down in a fire. Now they came here, and now this house has been destroyed.

Over here to my left, it really looks like a landfill. But what was here, three generations of the Martin family. They had three homes here. Two actual structures, and then a trailer home. The tornado came through here and obviously wiped out all their homes. I mean, they've essentially lost everything. It's difficult to even tell that a home was there. All you see is a lot of debris.

Earlier this morning they were here going through, picking out pictures, clothing, whatever they could find. And that is what you see around here -- somber faces from the homeowners who are coming back to try to recover whatever they can from their homes that have been destroyed.

You also hear the noise behind me. They're cleaning up. I mean, that's obviously what they have to do.

There are a lot of volunteers who have come to help clean up with their big saws, chopping down trees. Life obviously has to go on. But, you know, for the family, at least the Martin family back here, they are thinking about whether or not they will rebuild.

It has been such a traumatic event for them.

HARRIS: Well -- yes.

LOTHIAN: And they say they really don't know if they're going to be payable to move on.

Back to you.

HARRIS: Can I tell you -- here's what I'm struck by as I watch and listen to your report here. You know, we usually get these stories of a random nature of these storms and these tornado events where you've got maybe a couple of homes here absolutely devastated, then there is this one home that wasn't touched. As you were walking around there, I don't see anything that wasn't touched by this tornado.

LOTHIAN: You're right. You're right.

And, you know, I've covered tornadoes before, and you can see one home that's perfectly fine...

HARRIS: Yes. Yes.

LOTHIAN: ... and then the next home is destroyed. But you're right.

I mean, I gave you a sort of a tour...


LOTHIAN: ... a 360 tour around here. Every single home here has been destroyed.

And the home that I was telling you about, the Austin (ph) family, I mean, the roof is all gone, the back wall has even collapsed in here. Nothing around here is really standing. Everything here pretty much has to get knocked down. It really has -- it really has destroyed this particular community.

Now let's take a listen to the Martin family. I mean, they have lost everything. It's been very traumatic for them. Take a listen to what they had to tell us earlier.


PATTY MARTIN, STORM VICTIM: You see it on the news every day, and you never think it's going to happen to you.

MARK MARTIN, STORM VICTIM: A few -- a couple of years ago there was a really small tornado that had come across the trees and took some of our trees out. So, you know, they say lightning don't strike the same place twice. Well, this is twice one's been here, and I don't know if I want to be here for the third one.


LOTHIAN: It really has been a massive rescue and volunteer operation going on here. We've seen some crews going by checking on the houses. You saw -- let me just show you again if we can spin around, Bob.

HARRIS: That would be great. Yes.

LOTHIAN: Over here, you'll see that the homes have those orange marks on them. That meant that they came by to check the homes just to make sure that no one was inside. They go from home to home.

There were also some members of the energy company here, some workers from the energy company, checking various lines, making sure that they don't have any gas problems. I know they usually shut those off when they have situations like this. But they were just double- checking to make sure that they don't have any leaks.

And certainly volunteers. We've seen volunteers going around bringing food and water and whatever supplies they can for all of the families who are coming back to try to retrieve whatever they can from their homes that have been destroyed -- Tony.

HARRIS: And we received word about an hour ago that FEMA is mobilizing, sending teams south. Let's hope they get there with some real assistance for those folks there where you are right now.

Dan Lothian, appreciate it. Thanks, Dan.

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe is getting a firsthand look at the devastation as he tours the damaged areas. He spoke with us by phone a short time ago about how Arkansas are pulling together.


GOV. MIKE BEEBE, ARKANSAS: One thing Arkansas is he really noted for is the way people rally and pull together. And actually, entire communities pitch in and help, whether it's giving blood, or whether it's helping with search and rescue, or whatever it might be. And some reports we're getting back is that there is an overwhelming number of folks who are actually engaged in assisting the emergency personnel and the first responders to try to be responsive to the needs of the people. But reports continue to come in in various places across the state about the nature of the devastation, about the things that we will find.


HARRIS: The storm downed so many power lines in Arkansas, thousands of people without electricity. Some 350 electrical workers from other states are being called in to help fix things and get things back and running again.

COLLINS: Unfortunately, we have a death toll number to update for you. And we're talking about the state of Tennessee. We are just now learning of two more deaths in Sumner County.

That would bring that number to seven in Sumner County, if you're familiar specifically with these different counties. And also 12 now up from 10 in Macon County. That brings our confirmed total to 52 dead now, at least, across these five states that we have been telling you about all morning long.

And in the middle of it all, one of the hardest-hit areas by these storms, Jackson, Tennessee.

Our Ed Lavendera is there now bringing you a firsthand look of that damage.

And Ed, I know you are standing in the parking lot now of Union University. Really, really tough video to look at here.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this is one of the -- when daylight first broke, we were just getting the sense of how intense this storm was. You know, we heard a little while ago from some students who had been living inside that dorm there where you see the pink siding that's been exposed to the wall that fell out. I spoke to a couple students who were living in there last night, and they described an intense feeling of the pressure dropping. They said they could almost feel it sinking in on their chest.

And as they tried to open the door, the swirling wind and the dirt and everything flying. And then all of a sudden, it just got really quiet and the windows exploded.

And they said it was an intense feeling for about 10 minutes. And then when they came to, they came out into all of this mess and they started seeing other students running around trying to help people who had been trapped.

But, you know, there isn't a lot of time being wasted here. There's already some heavy machinery being brought in here to this university -- or this dormitory area where some 1,200 students had been living. And many of the students say they had been, you know, warned in advance to get into the lower levels of these dormitories to seek shelter. And that is perhaps one of the reasons why here on this campus no one was killed despite the heavy nature and the heavy hit, the direct hit that the tornado inflicted on this campus.

We're joined by Tim Ellsworth (ph) here with Union University.

Kind of give us an update on -- you've got a lot of stuff going on here on campus, as I can imagine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We're in the middle of the emergency assessment today, just trying to figure out the extent of the damage, figure out where we need to go from here. Trying to communicate to students and parents, and things like that, what's going on. And just trying to weigh all the factors as we make some decisions going forward about what's next for us.

LAVANDERA: And what have you told the students?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've told the students that tomorrow they can come and go through their dorm room, get stuff that they need to get. Come in, evaluate their vehicle, drive their vehicles off if they need to -- if their vehicle is driveable.

Classes are canceled until February the 18th right now is what we are saying. And so that's pretty much where we stand with the students right now.

LAVANDERA: Obviously in two weeks these dorm rooms can't be rebuilt. Where do you put these students when they come back?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that's the question that we are trying to figure out the answer to right now. We've got other places in town that have offered us lodging -- churches, other schools, things like that. And of course we've got faculty and staff who opened their homes last night to all the students on campus.

And I'm sure that that's something that will probably continue. It's something that will have to be considered whenever we decide to start classes again.

LAVANDERA: Are you amazed as you walk around this and you see all of this that none of your students were killed, quite frankly?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, yes. Amazed is not even quite a strong enough word.

You look at this and it's just utter astonishment that not only was nobody killed, but that there weren't dozens or hundreds of people killed. And we can only chalk that up to the prominence of God watching out for us.

LAVANDERA: Essentially the students we have spoken to said they had adequate warning, they felt they were well warned. They got on the lower levels. Is that, you think, was what made the difference here? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the residents life team here who puts these processes into place did a fantastic job. I think we've got some -- several heroes from last night's events.

And I think the residents life team that warned our students, got them to safety, told them what they needed to do to protect themselves, I think they're the heroes, as well as the emergency response teams that helped dig the students out and saved their lives in the process.

LAVANDERA: And last we heard there were several students that were still hospitalized. Have you an update on their conditions, how they're doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last I've heard, they were still hospitalized. We know there are some who have some injuries, but none of them are life-threatening. And so they're going to be OK.

And we're so thankful for that.

LAVANDERA: And some of this heavy machinery -- has the process of tearing some of this down, has that already begun?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know if it's begun in force. I think there -- I haven't been told yet what the status is as far as tearing these down and sorting through the debris. I know the insurance people are here today. And so we're kind of waiting to get some words from them before we proceed with tearing things down.

LAVANDERA: Well, I hope that insurance comes through.

The president of the university told us earlier that some $40 million to $50 million worth of damage had been inflicted on this university. Virtually every building on campus here affected in some way -- Heidi.

COLLINS: You can certainly see it, Ed, through all of your reporting this morning. Just absolutely stunning.

We sure do appreciate it.

Ed Lavendera for us this morning in Jackson, Tennessee, on the campus of Union University.

Thanks, Ed.

HARRIS: You know, why don't we do this? Why don't we just stay with these pictures out of Jackson, Tennessee, right now? Just amazing.

And the work that's been done in helping us tell this story by our affiliate, WMC, has just been -- well, you've got to tip your hat to them. It has just been amazing, these aerial looks at all of the devastation.

I can't come up with another word. It's just devastating to look at this there in Jackson, Tennessee.

That chopper pilot also made the rounds of Memphis as well. But we've got an amazing story we want to share with you right now.

Can you imagine this... you are driving in your car when the storm, the tornado, comes through the area, right where you are. What do you do?

Well, Heidi, you've asked this question -- what do you do? What is the best course of action? Well, we've got the story of one man who survived this storm in his car as the tornado hits and takes him on an incredible ride.

Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we were trying to get to her, because -- so we left, and -- you know, we said, well, let's stay here. And then we said, no, because she was on the way.

So I said, "All right." And then we got here to the intersection. It was stormy, it was windy, and people were outside, but it didn't look, you know, like it was just storming.

It wasn't, you know, really that bad. And like I said, it just -- it just came. I mean, it just -- you know, it wasn't that severe.

It was like about a split second of hail. I'm like, "Uh-oh." And by the time we saw the hail, that was it. It hit us and whacked us, and picked us up and threw us. I mean, it was instant. Instant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you thinking now? What are you feeling? Anything? Are you like...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, my head's hurting. I'd just like to get our phones back and find her glasses because, you know -- and the insurance company, I called them last night. They're supposed to be calling me about 10:00.

I mean, I don't mind losing the car. We didn't lose anybody. We lost the car.

You know, we're all alive. We lost the car, and I hate that, but, you know, we've got the insurance and I've got another one. And, you know, we'll get through it. You know, so nobody's dead. That's the biggest thing.


HARRIS: Yes, that's the biggest thing. But my goodness, he -- he was an eyewitness to this. He survived it.

He's driving along. The storm starts to get increasingly worse. The next thing, you've got hail. And then your vehicle is picked up and tossed through an intersection. How lucky is he? Just a headache. A bad bump on his head, obviously. But just amazing.

And more and more of those stories I'm sure we'll be getting throughout the course of the day here.

COLLINS: Yes. These powerful storms left at least seven people dead in Kentucky.

We are headed there live next in the this special edition of CNN NEWSROOM.



COLLINS: Meanwhile, President Bush contacted the governors of all five states slammed by these tornadoes, offering his sympathy, prayers and pledges of help.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was a bad storm that affected a lot of people in a variety of states. This administration is reaching out to state officials.

I just called the governors of the affected states. I wanted them to know that this government will help them. But more importantly, I wanted them to be able to tell the people in their states that the American people hold them up -- hold those who suffer up in prayer.


COLLINS: The president made his comments at the start of a swearing-in ceremony for the new U.S. agriculture secretary, Edward Schaefer.

HARRIS: Severe weather leaves at least seven dead across Kentucky. Damage in Central City described as looking as if a bomb went off. Those words coming from city administrator David Rhoades.

He's on the phone with us.

David, good to talk to you.

You know, we often say, oh, it could have been worse, it could have been worse. Yes, we know that. We get that.

But just how bad is it, particularly in Central City?

DAVID RHOADES, CITY ADMINISTRATOR, CENTRAL CITY, KENTUCKY: Well, on the southeast side of town, it's where the direct hit was. There's not much damage other than in this one community, which is Gaslight Park area. The damage is pretty substantial.

HARRIS: Did you -- have you had an opportunity to kind of tour it and see it for yourself?

RHOADES: Yes, sir. I have walked the whole subdivision.

HARRIS: What did you see? Describe it for us.

RHOADES: It's hard to put into words what you see. I just thank the lord that there's relatively no severe injuries and no deaths.

But there are homes that have been completely destroyed. There are homes that have been the roofs removed, the garages, the vehicles have been -- the glass is broke out, they've been shoved up against retaining walls, totaled out. Trees galore just -- it is -- it really looks like, if you haven't seen it, it looks like a war zone.

HARRIS: How many people in your town need help right now?

RHOADES: There is approximately 50 homes that have been damaged, probably with -- beyond occupancy.

HARRIS: Oh, boy.

And David, you're one of the people that the folks in your town would look to for some help, some leadership. Give me a sense of what it is you can do, what you're trying to marshal together to get some aid and comfort to folks.

RHOADES: Well, right now, with the help from our local fire department, our police department, we have the National Guard on hand. We have 30 of those units here helping with traffic control, keeping solicitors out. We're having a problem with onlookers, people that want to come out and view the scene.

The volunteer fire departments from around the -- not only in the county, but outside the county, the numerous police departments, we have been very blessed with support.


RHOADES: We've had two contractors come out with track hoes to remove huge trees out in the middle of the road. The support has been just unbelievable.

HARRIS: Well, I don't know if you have an opportunity -- I mean, I know your hands are full right now. We'd love to see some of the pictures of this damage. I mean, the pictures that are coming in to help us tell this story today are just amazing.

David Rhoades is a city administrator, Central City there in Kentucky.

David, thanks for your time. We know you're going to be busy.

And again, you're looking at pictures on the left of your screen there from Jackson, Tennessee. Again, just amazing pictures.

But let's continue to tell the Kentucky story. The tornado damage there widespread. At least seven people were killed. The spokesman for Kentucky's Emergency Management Division, Buddy Rogers, spoke with us by phone a short time ago.


BUDDY ROGERS, KENTUCKY DIVISION OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Let me just say that our hearts go out to not only the folks in our state, but those in our surrounding states, too. And our thoughts and prayers are not only with those families and their loved ones, but to the responders as well.

In Kentucky, we've had seven confirmed deaths from last night's storms, and some injuries. Mostly minor to moderate. Haven't had any reports of any serious injuries, but we do have widespread damage throughout the state.


HARRIS: Kentucky's governor, Steve Beshear, has declared a state of emergency. He's surveying some of the hardest-hit areas in the south-central and western portions of the state by air today.

COLLINS: Quickly want to go ahead and show you some more new video just as it comes in to us here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

You are looking at the Arkansas governor who we spoke to at the top of our program around 9:00 today. This is Mike Beebe sort of taking a look at damage, surveying everything that he can. It is not a pretty sight in Arkansas. We know of at least 13 fatalities in his state.

Let's go ahead and listen in for just a moment as some of the eyewitnesses here tell the governor what they saw.


BEEBE: You live in this house right here?

And you live in the one right over there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, sir. I was just staying with them.

BEEBE: And so, how much...


COLLINS: Well, unfortunately, it looks like that is the end of the new video coming in.

But, once again, just to give you a little bit more detail about Arkansas, at least 13 fatalities that we know of there in that state. But one of the most remarkable things that we've been hearing is about the weather there now.

We were speaking earlier to the emergency management folks there who were telling us it's very strange, because as you can tell by that video, people are wearing their coats. And it is snowing and sleeting there now on top of these tornadoes that rolled in in a very unlikely time of year. February, obviously. Kind of a strange scenario weather wise. Making a lot of things quite a bit more difficult for them, too, in the cleanup efforts all around.

The video is pouring in from all of this devastation. If you look at this now, it's from the town of Moulton in northern Alabama. Searchers are spray -- spray paint a circle on the front of what's left of the houses. It means that they have gone inside and they have checked for victims. In this case, at least four people were killed by tornadoes before dawn this morning. A siren alerted many of the residents to the tornado danger but state officials say there was no siren in the area where these victims died.

We're going to have a live report coming up from Moulton on this special edition of CNN NEWSROOM.

To Mississippi now. Residents there also dealing with their share of damage today too. I-Reporter Shane Carr shot some of these images of the flying debris. You can see some of it there going through the air. He says it's from a big warehouse in South Haven, Mississippi. Carr says this was the beginning of the tornado. He shot this about a mile from his house. He says his kids were outside watching the funnel cloud while he ran inside to grab his camera. Wow.

With nearly 50 people dead and hundreds more injured, images and blogs on this story are already burning up the web. Veronica De La Cruz is tracking this story online now for us from New York.

And, Veronica, it's been pretty amazing to see what the people saw an hear some of their comments.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, you really are right about that. And we have been taking a good, hard look at the web. We've also been monitoring all of our affiliate web sites.

And we want to start in Clinton, Arkansas, with Fox 16, our affiliate there. Top stories right now, 13 confirmed dead state wide due to tornadoes. And one of the hardest hit areas, Atkins, where there are reports of widespread damage.

We were just looking at the video moments ago. There are also, unfortunately, injuries and fatalities. Moving up that page, there's the video box right there. Let's go ahead and listen in for a second, Heidi, as a reporter there shows what was once a Baptist church.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I just want to show you, it's just -- there's so much damage here. Look at this. This is the siding here from the building. And it just looks like crinkled paper. And the beams here just look like match sticks. There's just a lot of damage here.

What you're looking at, this is actually the sanctuary. This is where the gym was. The sanctuary where they worshiped. And when you look at this, it's just so hard to believe there were actually two people inside here when this tornado -- when this storm hit. And they actually made it out OK.

DE LA CRUZ: So lucky for them there. It was Fox 16, Clinton, Arkansas.

We want to also bring you up to speed on another situation. The one in Jackson, Tennessee, where the university is. We're going to take a look at the web site belongs to our affiliate WMCTV now. The headline there, the story explaining how students hid in the bathroom as those tornadoes touched down.

Thirteen students trapped in the wreckage overnight. Luckily all have been rescued. About nine were taken to area hospitals with serious injuries. And then taking a look at the video box there, you see that, right-hand side of the page, Heidi, there is some raw aerial footage of all the damage done to the school, which really kind of gives you a sense of how powerful that storm was as it ripped through the area. I think one of the reporters earlier was saying $30 million in damages done to that school.

We also found this on the web, Heidi. A FaceBook page for the university students. The group's administrator has posted about 20 pictures and those pictures really do tell the story. Taking a look right here, you see cars just flipped over. Damaged, destroyed by the walls that have fallen on top of them.

Those are the walls to the dorm rooms. There you see the students getting together trying to help in the rescue efforts. You see debris in all of the pictures strewn about. There again, you see the walls just ripped off the dorms. The roof ripped right off the buildings.

Again, these pictures coming to us from FaceBook where there is a support group there online. I believe about 400 members now. That number has been continually climbing throughout the morning.

We're going to continue to watch the web this afternoon, Heidi, and check back with you and let you know what else we've found.

COLLINS: Veronica, very good. Appreciate that. Veronica De La Cruz for us this morning. Thanks.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Man, the deadly storms catch the attention of the federal government to be sure. Reaction from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff next.


COLLINS: Sympathy and offers of help pouring out into the south. Fifty-two people already killed in four states. That number, too, may change. Many homes and businesses damaged. President Bush telling the people of the region they can count on the federal government.

Here's the latest breakdown now. At least 28 deaths in Tennessee. Part of a mall store in Memphis was damaged and Union University in Jackson was nearly wiped out.

At least 13 people killed in neighboring Arkansas. Three people killed when their home took a direct hit.

At least seven people were killed in western and south central Kentucky. And at least four people are now confirmed dead in northern Alabama.

Again, the latest information for you. At least 52 people dead across four southern states from severe weather.

HARRIS: FEMA quickly stepping into action, telling tornado- ravaged states the agency is ready to help. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: FEMA is working with state and local counterparts, monitoring the storms and preparing to move into assist with respect to the process of responding and recovering as quickly as possible. The Regional Response Coordination Center Watch Unit in Thomasville, Georgia, is up an running and we've got state liaisons in Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and on its way to Arkansas. We've already deployed a team of FEMA people on the ground in Tennessee.

So we're going to keep watching this. Again, I want to emphasize, it's important for people to pay attention to the direction they get from their local officials regarding evacuation and safety.


HARRIS: OK. Chertoff also added our thoughts and prayers are with all of those communities.

What do you say we get another check of weather? Jacqui Jeras now.

Jacqui, clearly we are keeping an eye on all of the devastation that came before, but we're also looking ahead to the storm system and where it's going as it moves east.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right, the threat of tornadoes is still out there, Tony and Heidi, and predominantly we're looking at parts of Georgia and also into Florida. There you can see the watch in effect until 2:00 local time.

But one thing I want to point out is many of these storms, see how they're lined up? It's kind of a linear line here. And that is more indicative of strong, damaging wind. When you tend to see the isolated storms out ahead of the line, that's when we really start to get concerned.

So hopefully it looks like that tornado threat is starting to diminish, but the threat of severe weather, by no means, is over and done with. And straight-line winds can cause an excessive amount of damage. And even right here in the Dophin (ph) area, and just off to the east of there, we could be seeing some winds around 60 miles per hour or so. And you can see how that line is feeding out of the Gulf of Mexico and a lot of moisture is in place and a lot of warm air as well.

Another area that we're watching, that we're concerned about, is right here across parts of Kentucky. The storm prediction center is monitoring this area for the potential of needing to issue a tornado watch. So we're seeing this development around Louisville, extending down towards Bowling Green. All of that will be pushing eastward. If you live in Cincinnati, if you live in Richmond, down towards Knoxville, be aware of that upcoming threat over the next couple of hours.

There's also a winter side to this storm, guys. And we're going to talk more about this. Chicago is just getting walloped right now. I'll tell you all the details on that when I see you again.

HARRIS: OK, Jacqui, appreciate it. Thank you.

Door to door, house to house, emergency crews are canvassing damaged neighborhoods in Arkansas looking for victims. Our Dan Lothian is in Atkins. That's about 60 miles northwest of Little Rock.

And, Dan, outside of perhaps the pictures coming out of Jackson, Tennessee, what you've shown us has been absolutely amazing as to -- speaking to the devastation from these storms.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is amazing, Tony. You know, oftentimes what we say is that the camera can't really capture the massive nature of the devastation. I mean once you get on the ground here and you see what has happened, you see these large trees that have been just uprooted and you see an entire community here that has been just heavily damaged and so many structures destroyed, I mean it really sort of brings it home.

Right here where we are, and we talked about this earlier, Tony. As we can spin the camera around. Sometimes what happens with tornadoes is that they'll sort of hop around a neighborhood and you'll have pockets where the homes are completely fine, and then other areas where the homes are gone. Well, in this area here, every single home either heavily damaged or destroyed.

This is a home where the family was inside, six members of the Austin (ph) family inside that home. They were able to escape uninjured inside the bathroom in the center of their home. But you look at it. I mean there's not really -- except for the walls around the front part, the rest of the house is really blown out. The back, you can see by the window there, that whole wall has caved in. Just a few minutes ago, the owners of the house of the family members were there just picking through, trying to find whatever they can from that house.

Across the street here, the owners of this house, they live not far away. A few years ago, their other house was destroyed by fire. Now this home has been destroyed by the tornado. Across the street over here, and we can just kind of walk around the car here, it really kind of looks like just a landfill. But what was here, we had three different homes, two permanent structures and a trailer home. Three generations of the Martin family. The parents were not here but the young kids were here. The grandmother was here. The great grandmother was here when the storm came through here. When the tornado hit. And it was a terrifying moment for all of them. Take a listen to what they told us earlier today.


BLAKE MARTIN, STORM SURVIVOR: It happened so fast you really couldn't think about hardly being scared.

ROB HARDY, STORM SURVIVOR: I was pretty worried. I don't know about him. You know, it's kind of a scary thing. Eight years, you know, I guess the pressure is -- it feel like your head's going to explode. I mean it's just not what I thought a tornado was like.


LOTHIAN: The Martin family saying that they don't know if they will be able to rebuild here. It's such a difficult time for them and they haven't decided at this point whether or not they can rebuild. So many memories here. So many generations here and pretty much everything has been lost.

But again, what you're seeing now, volunteers coming through assisting the families who have been hit hard in this community, in any way that they can. And you're also seeing people going through and picking out whatever they can out of the rubble. Right across the street here you'll see a while ago, they just brought out a dresser and they're bringing out other items. We've seen people taking out pictures and clothing. So that's kind of what's happening here. As construction crews, debris removal crews are coming in here, we've seen gas crews going around and checking lines, making sure that there isn't any gas that's leaking around here.

So a lot of different things happening in this community. And at the same time we're dealing with some pretty nasty weather. Early we had some snow flurries coming down. It's very windy as you can see. I almost lost my hat earlier on. About 35 degrees or so. So, you know, horrible conditions in the midst of a very difficult time here in this town.

HARRIS: Well, it's no special effects. It's no movie set. That's the real thing and that's what it looks like in that whole area. Just, man, oh, man, ripped apart by that tornado. Dan Lothian, great reporting on that and, boy, great story telling. And what a description from the Martins.

Thanks, Dan.

COLLINS: Alabama was caught right in the middle of the tornado barrage. Powerful images when we take you there live next.


HARRIS: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Can't thank you enough for the I-Reports that you've been sending in to us. I want to get to this one. I-Reporter Mark Inman shot these photos at the Hickory Ridge Mall in Jackson, Tennessee. Inman says the mall was actually open when the tornado slammed the area. He doesn't know if anyone was hurt but the destruction everywhere. An entire wall of the Sears Department Store ripped off completely. We had an aerial view of that Sears store. Amazing. Inman says because of the weather, he never got a chance to vote.

COLLINS: All right. We want to go ahead and get now to one of our reporters coming to us from Clinton, Arkansas. This is about 70 miles north of Little Rock. Let's listen in to just a moment with Heather Crawford.


HEATHER CRAWFORD: Yesterday this was a house. Today this is all that's left. It was a heart-wrenching moment a few minutes ago when a young lady who lives here came home. She was not home during the tornado yesterday. She came here, she walked up and she said, I went to school and I had a house and I came home and I have nothing. She was digging through pulling out a jewelry box. Just broke down in tears hugging and crying and couldn't believe what has happened here.

It's the same story all around. The tornado not only picked up houses, it picked up people. A woman right at the house behind me was thrown out of her mobile home. She had to be medevac'd out and is now in critical condition at a hospital. So many stories here today.

But when you talk about the spirit of Arkansas, this is the spirit of Arkansas. There are so many people who have come out here today to bring food, to help saw trees down. So there are a lot of team effort, a lot of people doing their part to make sure these folks here get back on their feet.

we're going to take a break and come back with more of our coverage of the deadly southern storms. 52 people dead. Hundreds injured. 52 dead in four states. We're back in a moment.


HARRIS: And we're going to take a break and we'll come back with more of our coverage of the deadly southern storms. Fifty-two people dead, hundreds injured. Fifty-two dead in four states. We'll take a break and we're back in a moment. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: The Red Cross, as you might imagine, is mobilizing to help victims of this storm. If you would like to make donations, you can certainly do that. Just call 1-800-RED-CROSS or log on to And for those of you in hard-hit areas, you can register yourself as "safe and well" on the Red Cross website so concerned family and friends can search the list for loved ones who have registered themselves as "safe and well." Makes everybody feel a whole lot better if they can check that list.


HARRIS: All right. Let's get an update on the situation in Alabama. Also hard hit. Four dead, many others hurt. Live now to the city of Moulton and reporter Alcides Segui of affiliate WAAY.

And, Alcides, if you would, first of all tell us where Moulton is. Next to what big city? That would be helpful.

ALCIDES SEGUI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That would be Lawrence County. It's in the northern part of Alabama. It's roughly about -- let's say about an hour and a half west of Huntsville, Alabama, which is about an hour and a half northeast of Birmingham.

But let me go ahead and just show you what happened here, Tony. Roughly around 2:30 in the morning is when the severe storm came through and this is what it left behind. Absolutely destruction.

This is a man's house here in a small town called Speak (ph). We had an opportunity to speak with this individual a little while ago. We're going to crawl over and just bring you into this man's living room.

This is where it all happened. I spoke to him a little while ago and he was telling me that roughly around 2:30 in the morning is when he heard lightning, walked outside and then just saw lightning scattered in the horizon, decided that he actually saw a tornado also on the horizon, ran inside the house and got behind this couch right here, laid down right over here, and then waited until the actual storm came through. He said it lasted about ten seconds.

I'm joined now by that man, Dwight Johnson.

Dwight, thank you very much for joining us. Tell us what you saw, how big was this storm?

DWIGHT JOHNSON, STORM SURVIVOR: Well, it was, I'm going to say, an F-3. Maybe an F-4. It was huge. Yes, I came out early this morning. About maybe a quarter of 3:00. And I could see with the lightning strikes, I could see the funnel cloud in the sky. And then in just a matter of minutes, it disappeared and the sky just turned real black.

SEGUI: Tell me what your thoughts were when you saw the tornado, what you call a tornado up on the horizon. What did you think?

JOHNSON: Well, it was amazing. I'd never seen a tornado before. And I was just, you know, sitting there staring at it because I said, that's amazing. I've never seen a real tornado. But I could see the tail waving and whipping back. And then, like I said, it just all of a sudden disappeared. And then within minutes, I could hear a train sound coming.

SEGUI: Mr. Johnson, I really appreciate your time. And, Tony, just to give you a heads up, these are stories that you can hear across up and down County Road 183. Spoke to a woman a little while ago. She was actually sitting on her rocker when the tornado came through her living room and, fortunately, she only suffered a minor cut to her head. So a lot of remarkable stories out here, Tony.

HARRIS: All right, Alcides, appreciate it. Thank you so much.

More on the deadly storms coming up in the next hour of NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris.

COLLINS: And I'm Heidi Collins. You'll also get a lot of reaction to the results of Super Tuesday. We will see you tomorrow, everybody.