POSTED: 4:32 a.m. HST, Oct 27, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 1:52 p.m. HST, Oct 27, 2010
VALE, N.C. >> Fierce winds demolished three homes and injured 11 people in North Carolina and tornado watches were issued across the Southeast as a massive storm blew east Wednesday after lashing the central United States.
One emergency responder said a woman and three children in rural Vale had only cuts and minor injuries after the storm late Tuesday tore apart their mobile home and an adjacent house.
"It was a miracle they survived," said Leslie Bowen, the emergency medical technician who found the family standing amid the wreckage. "It was just total chaos."
"Everywhere you walked was just debris," she said about the town in the Appalachian foothills.
Yolanda Corona's family was left wondering where to live after the storm blew out their living room windows, knocked down the chimney and sent a tree through the roof.
Ten relatives were gathered in Corona's home watching television Tuesday night when the wind hit.
"We thought we were going to die. We were just so scared. We didn't have time to do anything. We all just listened and prayed for our lives," Jessica Vargas, Corona's 18-year-old granddaughter, recalled Wednesday morning.
Nobody was seriously hurt, though Corona had some cuts on her leg.
The storm making its way through a big chunk of the nation brought a bit of everything: Strong winds, rain, tornadoes and even some snow for parts of the Midwest. A blizzard warning was in effect for parts of North Dakota, where the National Weather Service reported as much as 8 inches had fallen.
Linnea Reeves, a Walmart employee in Bismarck, N.D., said the snow has already made roads hazardous.
"The weather is not very nice out here. The winds are picking up and it's very snowy very slick," Reeves said. "I've got my snow shovel in my car in case I get stuck."
Schools were closed or had delays because of snow in northern Minnesota, where the National Weather Service was reporting over seven inches of snow in Duluth since Tuesday evening.
In the South, tornado watches stretched from central Mississippi across Alabama to north Georgia early Wednesday.
The storm tore into the Midwest a day earlier with wind gusts of up to 81 mph, snapping trees and power lines, ripping off roofs and delaying flights.
The unusual system mesmerized meteorologists because of its size and because it had barometric pressure that was similar to a Category 3 hurricane, but with much less destructive power.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the system's pressure reading Tuesday was among the lowest ever in a non-tropical storm in the mainland U.S. Spokeswoman Susan Buchanan said the storm was within the top five in terms of low pressure, which brings greater winds.
The fast-moving storm blew in from the Pacific Northwest on the strength of a jet stream that is about one-third stronger than normal for this time of year, said David Imy, operations chief at the NOAA's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. As the system moved into the nation's heartland, it drew in warm air needed to fuel thunderstorms. Then the winds intensified and tornadoes formed.
They whirled through Racine County, Wis., where two people were injured when a section of roof was torn off a tractor factory, and in Van Wert County, Ohio, near the Indiana border, where a barn was flattened. A tornado also touched down in Peotone, Ill., where three people were injured when a home's roof came off, and twisters were suspected in several other states.
An apparent tornado on the Chickamauga Dam in Chattanooga, Tenn., caused an accident that led to the closure of the highway and injured several people.
The National Weather Service confirmed that eight tornadoes touched down in Indiana Tuesday, but that no serious damage or injuries were reported. Ohio saw three twisters.
In suburban Chicago, Helen Miller, 41, was hurt when a branch fell about 65 feet from a large tree, crashed into her car and impaled her abdomen. Doctors removed the branch and Miller's husband said she asked him to hang on to it.
"She wants to save it for an art project or something," Todd Miller told the Chicago Sun-Times. "She's a bit of a free spirit, so I ran with it."