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Monday, 11 November, 2002, 22:45 GMT
Tornadoes smash through eastern US
Residents look through the wreckage of their mobile homes in Tennessee
Rescuers fear they will find more victims in the wreckage
A string of devastating tornadoes has destroyed hundreds of homes in a destructive rampage across the US from the Canadian border to the Deep South.

It's mass destruction, death - Mossy Grove is destroyed

Ken Morgan, rescue officer

More than 30 people are now known to have died in several eastern states and emergency workers are warning that the death toll is almost certain to rise.

Dozens of people are missing in Ohio, Tennessee and Alabama, hundreds are injured and tens of thousands of homes are without power.

Open in new window : US tornadoes
Click here to see pictures of the storms

Unseasonably high temperatures followed by a cold front generated the conditions for the tornadoes which came in several violent waves.

Communication problems

One of the worst-hit communities was Mossy Grove in Tennessee where seven people died when a tornado wrecked everything on the ground in a swath five to six miles (6 to 10 kilometres) long.

Map of states hit by tornadoes and showing Mossy Grove in Tennessee

One of the victims was a four-month-old boy, killed in an area where 20 homes were flattened.

More than 40 people were missing in Mossy Grove, with emergency crews working through the night having to rely on ham radio operators for communication since phone lines were knocked out by the storm.

Ken Morgan, an officer from the nearby town of Oliver Springs, said: "It's mass destruction, death. Mossy Grove is destroyed."

Several people died as they became trapped in cars and homes, while others frantically tried to escape the churning storms.

In Ohio, a State Highway Patrol trooper, Jon Cross, said he saw a storm approach as he was heading to work.

"I heard a roar. I saw a black wall," he said.

"I could see everything spinning. It was coming right at me."

The storms cut a 100-mile (160-km) swath through northwest Ohio farmland, doing serious damage to the town of Van Wert.

Deaths have been reported in Tennessee, Alabama, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Mississippi.

You sent us your experiences of the tornadoes.

We are located in Northeast Ohio, the unusual thing about this line of thunderstorms that spawned the latest tornadoes is that they don't usually occur in November. This type of weather occurs in the spring. We have experienced more violent weather than I can count, but I can only account for 4 tornadoes that formed from the storms. We trust the warning system in place in the community. The siren is sounded at the first hint of a storm that may produce a tornado. The Sheriff depatment interrups tv and radio to update the location of the spotted funnel clouds. Being scared does no benefit to you or your family. In this area we are prepared and react by just getting out of the way of the storm, let it do its damage and rebuild.
Kathy Lewis, Stark Co.,Ohio, USA

I am a storm chaser and severe weather photographer. I chase alongside my boyfriend Gene Rhoden in the midwestern United States every storm season - usually from April to June every year. It is very disheartening that warning systems are either still not up to scratch with giving out the warning soon enough for people to take adequate cover, or that the public do not heed the warnings in the first place. These storms kill - it is as simple as that.

But they are also beautiful, and I have had close-up experiences of 6 tornadoes - all spawned from the same Supercell storm - on June 23rd this year. Fortunately this storm was in a very rural area, and there were no casualties - but 6 tornadoes in succession is an awesome and very humbling thing to experience.
(For more, see my website:
Karen E. Leszke, UK

The thunder was so loud that all the hotel walls vibrated.

Kate, UK
I was staying in a hotel in Warren, north-east Ohio when the storm warnings were first issued. I gathered with some other guests in the hotel lobby, watching the TV weather continuously for 3 hours. Fortunately we missed the worst of the storms, but we saw the lightning from our vantage point in the hotel and it was amazing, I have never seen so much lightening across a night sky. Even after the Tornado Warnings for the county had expired, the thunder was at times so loud that all the hotel walls vibrated.
Kate, UK

I grew up in Southwest Missouri which is right in the middle of "tornado alley." I can still remember the tornado drills we had in school. A couple times a year we would practice going into the hallway and getting in the "duck and cover" position. I also remember when the county would test the storm sirens that would go off when a tornado touches down. They sound like air-raid sirens or something. The most distinct detail I remember is how the sky turns green right before a tornado comes. That was so creepy. Now that I'm on the West coast, I have earthquakes to contend with. I'm not sure which is worse!
RC, California, USA

I've been in or near about half a dozen tornadoes, two of them what I would call "serious." You can try to build tornado-safe buildings, but the fact of the matter is that nothing can withstand those twisters that cause the most damage. Unless you've been near one, you have no idea the power involved: it would simply be futile to spend the time, energy, and money to try to create buildings that can withstand killer tornadoes. In the US, you're talking about the Great Plains, the midwest, and in some measure the east coast. It just isn't feasible. You may as well try to find a way to change the weather itself.
Kevin Fromer, Illinois, USA

Driving across the flat plains of Indiana, I was caught by a tornado that seemingly came from no where. Even though it was a relatively small funnel cloud, it was still terrifying and devastating to the landscape. It seems strange to me that building laws in the States still allow for pre-fab housing in areas where there is a definable tornado "season." The power of these storms should never be underestimated.
Mel Beatty, UK

To Mel Beatty in the UK:
A conventionally constructed home is not less likely be damaged by a tornado than a prefabricated one.
Mike, USA

Storm cellars provide some relief, but are not fully reliable.

Rev James Lovette-Black, USA
My mother's house was horribly damaged in Carbon Hill, Alabama. The 9 mile-road from her house to the nearest town was impassable because of fallen trees and enormous pieces of houses that blocked the road. Fortunately, they were not injured, but several people in the little town of Carbon Hill were killed. Having grown up with the terror of tornadoes, there is almost no way to describe the roaring sound, the altered sensations because of static electricity all around, the sudden drop in air pressure, etc., all combined to powerfully change the way that one feels. The response is a primal, get-the-hell-out-of-here instinct. Storm cellars (shelters) provide some relief, but are not fully reliable. So, people are left confronting one of the most powerful natural phenomena with their wits, terror, and the people around them.
The Reverend James C. Lovette-Black, USA

Tornadoes are a fact of life in the South (Tennessee, USA). This past weekend's outbreak was especially frightening because the storms erupted so suddenly and kept coming. I've been through several tornadoes, including 2 close calls. After incidents like yesterday's, I feel very grateful to the meteorologists who keep us informed as these storms approach.
Jane, USA

We weren't too worried at first. The weather channel kept saying that we were going to get severe storms but they usually break up in western Ohio before they get to our county. I was washing the dishes when the first storm hit. My sister was in her room studying. I had a cd player on so I didn't hear much at first. Then the wind started getting so loud that I turned the music off. I went around the house shutting all the doors to the bedrooms so that the dogs would be in the living room should I need to find them in a hurry. It turned out to be a good decision. About ten minutes later I heard this low continuous rumble accompanied by an unbelievable amount of lightning and hail. My sister ran out of her room, we looked at each other, grabbed the two dogs, and went straight for the basement. One of the dogs started shaking a lot, almost like she was shivering. That scared me because I had always heard that animals can sense things before humans can. We had a battery operated radio with us so we listened to all the storm reports while we were down there. They never issued a tornado warning for our county but they issued one for Richland and Morrow counties, the two counties above us. The "tornado" turned out to be a microburst but still not something I care to experience again. My heart goes out to all those who really were hit by the tornado's especially those who lost family, friends, or homes in this outbreak. God bless.
Heidi S, Ohio, USA

The safest place that you can be in a hotel is in the bathroom

William A Bell, Canada
I was in a Motel in Cedar Point OHIO USA some years ago. A tornado ripped through the area. It flattened such things as road sign and uprooted trees. I saw it rip the back door off a parked estate car. We were advised that the safest place that you can be in a hotel is in the bathroom because the ceiling area is smaller and better supported than the other rooms. The worst place to be is near a large window. Windows often get sucked out. One woman was killed by this particular tornado which occurred in the mid 80's. I believe that Ohio in the USA has more tornadoes than anywhere else on earth.
William A. Bell, Canada

Although I live in Atlanta, Georgia, which has not been really damaged by the storm, I experienced some of its effects. I was walking home this night just before the storm began. There was no thunder heard at first but the sky was so frequently and brightly illuminated by the lightning that I could not believe it was a natural phenomenon: I've never seen such a bright lightning in my life. I thought it was a concert with extremely powerful light projectors going on nearby. Then, when I got home, the rain pelted down suddenly and thunder threatened to shatter window panes; the storm was raging all the night.
Arteum, USA

The BBC's Mark Orchard in Washington
"In Tennessee more than 120 people are still missing in one town"
Mark Rose of US National Weather Service
"We don't attribute this to global warming per se"
See also:

06 May 02 | Americas
25 Nov 01 | Americas
10 Oct 01 | Americas
18 Sep 00 | Science/Nature
11 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
11 Nov 02 | Americas
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