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33 Die as Storms Tear Through Southeastern US - 2002-11-11

Deadly storms have swept through the southeastern United States, killing at least 33 people and wreaking devastation in several towns. About 150 people are still missing and emergency crews are searching for survivors.

The storms began Sunday and continued into the early hours Monday, with high winds and severe rain that stretched from the southern states of Alabama and Tennessee northward into Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Tornadoes ripped through several towns, flattening buildings, flinging cars and debris, splintering trees, and wiping out electrical power for thousands of residents. The rural town of Mossy Grove, Tennessee, was especially hard hit with at least seven deaths and many more people missing.

In Ohio, a tornado damaged a 29 kilometer wide section of Van Wert County. The county's emergency director, Rick McCoy, said 60 children watching a movie were moved to safety just before the twister ripped away the roof and walls of the theater.

"The management here moved those children into the area right there where the cinder blocks were, got them on the ground and they were all saved as the tornado moved through. So certainly this could have been a very serious event, but because of a lot of information coming from our national weather service through the local emergency management and the emergency plans by this cinema, lives were spared at this location," Mr. McCoy said.

He said on the zero to five scale used for measuring the strength of tornadoes, the one that hit Van Wert County was a force four. Its winds whipped at more than 320 kilometers an hour.

"There were multiple tornadoes ahead of time, and possibly multiple vortexes meaning several little tails rotating together. But they went up, and one stayed very active. And when it came down, it became this large tornado and remained one large tornado," he said.

Mr. McCoy said the last time such a forceful tornado hit his county was in 1965.

Weather forecasters say unseasonably high temperatures on Sunday, followed by a slow moving cold front from Canada, made conditions ripe for severe storms including tornadoes.