Two people were killed by tornadoes Tuesday and Wednesday, while a third was found dead Thursday in a flooded homeless camp.
In the Georgia city of Adairsville, many homes splintered by the massive storm front as it punched across the Southeast on Wednesday.
The vast storm front shattered homes and businesses around the Midwest and South with tornadoes and high winds. By Thursday, it had spread tens of thousands of power outages from Georgia to Connecticut, triggered flash floods and forced water rescues in areas outside Washington. Evacuations were ordered in parts of Virginia and Maryland with river levels on the rise. In Laurel, Md., outside Washington, officials were opening some dams to ease pressure after the heavy rains.
Near the nation’s capital, emergency responders in Virginia’s Loudoun County said they conducted water rescues early Thursday after some flash floods. One Virginia motorist was plucked from a van’s rooftop after veering into a water-filled ravine, WTOP radio reported. Water rescues also were reported in the Washington suburb of Montgomery County, Md.
Anne Arundel County Police Lt. T.J. Smith said a person was found dead Thursday morning in a flooded homeless camp near the Patuxent River. Officials have opened flood gates to ease pressure on dams.
Some flooding also was reported in North Carolina and West Virginia.
Frigid air blanketed the nation’s midsection Thursday, with subzero temperatures and wind chills recorded in the Dakotas. In Detroit, icy roads were blamed for a massive chain reaction wreck involving about 30 vehicles on Interstate 75. At least three people died there, and another pileup involving more than 40 vehicles near Indianapolis closed a stretch of Interstate 70 in both directions.
Some of the fiercest damage occurred in Adairsville, a town some 60 miles northwest of Atlanta. WSB-TV in Atlanta aired footage of an enormous funnel cloud bearing down on Adairsville. Winds flattened homes and wiped out parts of a big manufacturing plant. Insulation dangled from trees and power poles. A bank lost a chunk of its roof.
In Adairsville, Kandi Cash tried to salvage photos and other keepsakes from the debris of her grandparents’ destroyed home. On the same lot was a mobile home where her aunt lived and another small house her cousin was fixing up to move into after a planned May wedding. All three homes were demolished: Christmas ornaments, children’s toys, clothing, household items and just about everything else that makes up a home were strewn about.
“I’m just picking up pictures,” said Cash, 28. “I’ve found the most important ones, like when my cousin was born and her late daddy, the ones that matter most.”
Cash, who lives in nearby Cartersville, rode out the violent weather in a neighbor’s basement. Once the worst had passed, she called her family in Adairsville and was relieved to hear they’d all made it to a cinderblock storm shelter under her grandparents’ home.
“I just told them that the Lord was watching after them,” she said. “The houses can be rebuilt. The most important thing was that they were safe.”
Anthony Raines, 51, was killed when a tree crashed down on his mobile home, crushing him on his bed, Bartow County Coroner Joel Guyton said. Nine other people were hospitalized for minor injuries, authorities said.
The other death reported from the storms occurred in Tennessee, where an uprooted tree fell Tuesday onto a storage shed where a man had taken shelter.
Near Adairsville, the storm was powerful enough to flip cars, including one turned upside down onto its roof.
“The sky was swirling,” said Theresa Chitwood, who owns the Adairsville Travel Plaza.
A shelter was set up at a recreation center as temperatures plummeted to the 30s and 40s overnight and people had no heat or power. Georgia Power said some 9,600 customers were still without power Thursday morning, down from about 14,000 a day earlier.
Around the Southeast, meanwhile, authorities were investigating several reports of twisters.
In Tennessee, officials confirmed that a tornado with peak winds of 115 mph touched down in Mount Juliet. No serious injuries were reported even though the path of damage was about 150 yards wide. At least six other tornadoes were reported statewide. At a shopping center in Mount Juliet, large sheets of metal littered the parking lot and light poles were knocked down. One wall of a Dollar General store collapsed, and the roof was torn off.
Deaths from the latest storm ended the nation’s longest break between tornado fatalities since detailed records began being kept in 1950, according to the Storm Prediction Center and National Climatic Data Center. The last one was June 24 in Florida. That was 220 days ago as of Tuesday.
The last day with multiple fatalities was June 4, when three people were killed in Missouri.