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Searches Underway After Deadly Storm

Aired November 11, 2002 - 10:00   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: The big story this morning, that line of storms and string of apparent tornadoes that have run a deadly path, stretching across much of the eastern U.S. this morning. At least 35 people this hour right now confirmed to be dead, and more than 100 still unaccounted for, as rescue crews are fanning out all the way from Alabama to Ohio.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: The National Weather Service declares, it's the nation's worst outbreak of tornadoes in years, with dozens of tornadoes sweeping across the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast. The weather service says, some of the twisters may have produced winds near 200 miles an hour.

Nearly half of the total death toll is being reported in Tennessee, where 17 deaths are confirmed. Most occurred in Morgan County in eastern Tennessee, and emergency officials say, the tiny remote town of Mossy Grove has been, what they're saying, "wiped off the face of the earth."

Dozens of people remain unaccounted for, and searches are underway.

Officials in Alabama fear the number of dead and injured will climb as emergency crews scour the rubble. Eleven people are known dead, most of them near Carbon Hill. Houses, mobile homes and at least one school have been blown apart.

And in northwest Ohio, at least five people are confirmed dead. Tens of thousands of Ohioans are without power, and the state's governor has declared a state of emergency in both Van Wert and Ottawa Counties.

HARRIS: Now, we've got reporters who are getting out right now on the road. We are trying to get them positioned all along the path of this killer storm.

And we're going to start with that town of Mossy Grove, Tennessee that we just heard about -- as you just heard those dramatic words, may have been "wiped off the face of the earth."

Our correspondent, Gary Tuchman, is on the way there as a matter of fact.

Gary -- how close are you right now?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, we're right outside of Mossy Grove right now. We're in the town of Oliver Springs, Tennessee, rapidly approaching Mossy Grove.

We can tell you, we've talked to people here in the area, and the first thing they're hearing is that they're trying to talk to friends and relatives who live in Mossy Grove. There is no way to get in touch with them. Many of them have tried to go into the town, or where the town was, to try to find out what's happening. They're being told they cannot go in right now.

But we are being told the latest numbers from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency that statewide 17 people have indeed been killed since Saturday, and two separate storms have come through here. At least 60 people have been hurt; 150 people are missing. Now, this is very important. That does not mean those people are dead. It's very likely that most, if not all, of the 150 have just evacuated elsewhere. But the fact is, 150 people statewide are still unaccounted for.

And there are 25,000 customers without power right now in 15 counties here in Tennessee.

It's turning into a beautiful day. It's mostly sunny right now and warm. It belies what happened over the weekend. There's terrible tragedy here, as we approach the small town of Mossy Grove, where calamity has occurred -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, Gary, as you make your approach into that town area, have you been able to see anything or any signs of any damage elsewhere? Or has it all been concentrated within that one small town area?

TUCHMAN: You know, we've seen this countless times when we cover these tornadoes, and these huge storms that cause (ph) immense damage in small pockets. And right now here in Oliver Springs, which is really right next to Mossy Grove, you would never know anything happened.

HARRIS: Yes. Now, as I understand it as well, I also heard a report this morning about all of the utilities really pretty much being knocked out there. There is no electricity, no telephone service, which is one of the reasons why this number of 150 or so missing is so significant, because they can't really check on everybody right now.

How about the hospital situation? Do you know whether or not the hospitals are in trouble because of that?

TUCHMAN: Well, there's no hospital per se in Mossy Grove. The hospitals in the surrounding areas do have power. The ones that were knocked out of power had auxiliary power. That's not seen as an issue right now.

HARRIS: Gotcha. All right, good deal.

All right, Gary, thanks much -- Gary Tuchman traveling there to that town of Mossy Grove in eastern Tennessee. Travel carefully, and we'll get back to you later on. He's going to be with us off and on throughout the morning as we can get as many reports as we possible can in on this incredible storm.

KAGAN: As we said, this crosses many different states, including Alabama.

We want to go ahead and bring in Taylor Henry. He's with our affiliate, WBRC, and he is in Carbon Hill, Alabama.

Taylor -- hello. Can you tell us exactly where Carbon Hill is?

TAYLOR HENRY, CNN AFFILIATE WBRC REPORTER: Carbon Hill is about an hour-and-a-half northwest of Birmingham. And this is Carbon Hill elementary and junior high school, as you can see the damage. These are the administrative offices. They were destroyed; school officials now rummaging through to salvage what they can. At least 10 classrooms here were heavily damaged.

The storm systems began coming through last night around 7:15. A tornado is believed to have touched down here in Carbon Hill. Ten people were killed in Walker County alone. One other person is known to have died in Cherokee County, Alabama. Dozens of others are injured, and still others are missing. With daylight, rescue-and- search crews are out today trying to account for those who are still unaccounted for.

The death toll is rising with one additional person reported dead just a short a short while ago.

Meanwhile, there's no school here for the rest of the week at Carbon Hill elementary and junior high schools, while school officials try to decide where to move classes and what to do next.

Reporting for CNN, Taylor Henry.

KAGAN: Hey, Taylor, before we let you go, I want to ask you about these reports of people who are missing. Is it possible that a large number of them could have taken shelter with neighbors or gone to other places, and they're hoping that's how they're accounted for?

HENRY: Certainly it's possible that they could have gone to visit friends, relatives. There is one shelter also that has been opened here at Carbon Hill. At this point, they're just missing.

KAGAN: Taylor Henry, we wish you the best there in Alabama -- thank you so much.

HARRIS: All right, let's go to the scene in Ohio -- the storms there extremely severe, and it got ugly early there. Storms barreled their way into farming country in the northwestern corner of the state of Ohio. Despite being sparsely populated in those areas, Van Wert County is reporting at least two of the state's five deaths.

We get details now from reporter Angelica St. John from CNN affiliate WANE.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a tornado.

ANJELICA ST. JOHN, CNN AFFILIATE WANE REPORTER (voice-over): This is what Van Wert was facing: Four tornadoes barreled into Van Wert County. This one captured on home video.

BRETT CHENEY, RESIDENT: I can't -- I can't even comprehend it. It's amazing to me. I never expected anything like this to happen here.

ST. JOHN: This is what residents now face: homes reduced to rubble, power lines in front yards, trees clear-cut, and what's left of the trees holds what's left of the homes.

AUDREY MACKIE, RESIDENT: Because I heard a lot of, like, wind. And I go down and right at the end of my road, there's a humongous tornado right in the field at the end of my road.

ERIK KABLE, RESIDENT: I've never seen anything in my life like it. It was huge.

ST. JOHN: You could hear sirens over the rain, as families assessed the damage, and as rescue workers searched for those missing and injured.

Dozens of people were inside the Van Wert cinema when a tornado tore the top off. Luckily, these patrons were able to get out safely.

Police officers we spoke with say that there have been far fewer injuries than they expected.

The sound of rescue helicopters rumbles through the night sky, as they tend to the injured.

KABLE: I won't believe it until tomorrow morning when it sets in. It's kind of scary.

ST. JOHN: Scarier still for those searching for loved ones still missing.


KAGAN: And that was from reporter Angelica St. John of our affiliate WANE in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


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