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Tornadoes sweep across Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio and Indiana

A dozen tornadoes have been spotted across the South and Midwest. Tornado warnings are up until 10 p.m. Friday night

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Authorities are confident that storms that hit Limestone and Madison counties were tornadoes, but it will be up to the National Weather Service to confirm the twisters, said Alabama State Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Yasamie August.

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"We're still getting reports of damage pretty much as we speak," she said at midday.

For residents and emergency officials across the state, tornado precautions and cleanup are part of a sadly familiar routine. A tornado outbreak last April killed about 250 people around the state, with the worst damage in Tuscaloosa to the south.

Forecasters warned of severe thunderstorms with the threat of tornadoes crossing a region from southern Ohio through much of Kentucky and Tennessee. By early Friday afternoon, tornado watches covered parts of those states along with Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

In Norman, Okla., forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center said they were bracing for what could be a potent tornado outbreak.

"Maybe five times a year we issue what is kind of the highest risk level for us at the Storm Prediction Center," forecaster Corey Mead said. "This is one of those days."

Mead said a powerful storm system was interacting with humid, unstable air that was streaming north from the Gulf of Mexico.

"The environment just becomes more unstable and provides the fuel for the thunderstorms," Mead said.

Schools sent students home early or cancelled classes entirely in states including Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and Indiana. In Alabama alone, more than 20 school systems dismissed classes early Friday. The University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and several other colleges in the state also canceled classes.

Residents were picking through debris in parts of Illinois that were devastated by the previous round of severe weather. The 9,000-resident town of Harrisburg was sacked by a twister about 5 a.m. Wednesday that killed six people. Forecasters weren't expecting the area to be hit hard by the newest storms, though.

That forecast didn't much matter to Amanda Patrick, who lost her home Wednesday in the same twister that killed neighbors.

"I don't know what to tell you other than I take it one moment, one day at a time," Patrick, 31, said a day after riding out the storm in the bathtub she barely was able to crawl into for shelter before the twister hit.

She considers herself blessed, having thought the sirens that wailed as the tornado barreled down on her neighborhood was actually part of her dream. She awakened just minutes before the tornado hit and hours later couldn't stop sobbing over the neighbors she lost.

"I'm not crying as much now. I'm here right now, standing," she said Thursday. "Now, I will get up every time I hear a siren."

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Associated Press writers Jim Suhr in Harrisburg, Ill., and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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