US East Coast, Midwest battered by strong storm systems
At least half a dozen people were killed as a result of severe weather in the southeast part of the country.
Waverly, Va. — Tornadoes tore through towns as far north as Pennsylvania, heavy snow canceled hundreds of flights in the Midwest and power outages left tens of thousands of residents from the Carolinas to New England in the dark as severe weather raked across a broad swath of the country for a third day.
The storms Wednesday claimed at least a half-dozen lives, three of them in the tiny town of Waverly, Virginia, where a 2-year-old child and two men, ages 50 and 26, were killed during the storm, said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller. Their bodies were found about 300 yards from their mobile home.
At least five structures were damaged in the town of approximately 2,000 and roads leading into town had to be closed because of downed trees and debris tossed by winds gusting to 60 mph, Geller said.
In Appomattox County, a tornado left an 8- to 10-mile path of destruction, injuring seven people and killing a 78-year-old man, state police said. Edward Keith Harris was found outside his home in Evergreen late Wednesday, Sheriff Barry Letterman told a news conference Thursday.
At least 15 structures were destroyed and 25 injuries were reported when the storm passed through Essex County and the town of Tappahannock, about 45 miles northeast of Richmond, state police said. The injuries ranged from minor to serious, but there were no confirmed fatalities.
In Waverly, witnesses said the storm swept through with little warning.
Timothy Williams said a friend had just come by to take his new car for a drive when the storm hit.
"It picked the car right off the ground, and put it right back on the ground," said Williams, 44. He said they remained in the car until the storm passed.
The storm blew down electrical wires "in a big ball of fire, thrashing all about each other," Williams said. He said they both escaped shaken but uninjured.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency Wednesday night.
In southern Michigan, a 6-year-old girl died following a three-vehicle crash. State police say Harlyn Radley died after the crash Wednesday afternoon near Battle Creek when a car driven by the child's mother lost control and collided with another vehicle. A third vehicle then struck the wreckage. Police say speed and heavy, wet snow were factors in the crash.
In South Carolina, Darlington County Corner Todd Hardee said in a statement that Michael Gaines Sr., 58, had stopped on a road near his home Wednesday to remove debris from the road when a pine tree fell on him. Sheriff Wayne Byrd said the victim was being a good Samaritan when he was killed.
The line of storms moved across Pennsylvania and the New York City area Wednesday night, bringing strong winds and heavy rains that knocked down trees and caused scattered power outages. At least two tornadoes blew through Pennsylvania, ripping off rooftops, collapsing homes and leveling an Amish schoolhouse in rural eastern Lancaster county and damaging several buildings near Wyalusing in Bradford County.
A crew was already at work Thursday rebuilding the Amish schoolhouse, which roofer Derek Cummings said looked like it had been hit by a bomb. He said it was hoped the 1,200-square-foot, one-story school could be rebuilt in a week. Emergency management officials said they had no reports of deaths or injuries.
In the Midwest, a powerful storm brought heavy snow and biting winds, leading to mass flight cancellations at Chicago airports and school closings in several states.
The Chicago Department of Aviation reported more than 1,100 flights had been canceled at the city's two major airports by Wednesday evening.
Bill Bunting with National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center estimated 20 to 24 tornados hit from Louisiana to Florida on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, one of the hardest-hit areas along the Gulf Coast was a recreational vehicle park in the town of Convent, in southern Louisiana. RVs were tossed about and lay on top of wrecked cars and pickup trucks. Two people were killed there, and 31 injured people were taken to area hospitals, St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin said.
In Mississippi, 73-year-old Dale Purvis died in a mobile home west of Purvis, Lamar County Coroner Cody Creel said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said an apparent tornado in the Pensacola area significantly damaged more than 70 homes and 24 apartments, leaving three people with minor injuries.
He stopped at The Moorings apartment complex, where winds ripped the roof off of at least two buildings.
Residents in LaPlace, Louisiana, were cleaning up Wednesday after a tornado ripped up trees, tore roofs from houses and terrified local residents. Nearly 200 homes were damaged.
Rose Fuselier, 80, had a gaping hole where her home's front window once stood.
"The whole backyard is covered with trees, and then my shed is torn up, too. The roof is gone, and the siding is partially gone," she said. Still, she said others suffered damage even worse than hers: "I lucked out. I lucked out."