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Residents clean up after killer storms

A funnel cloud forms in West Mansfield, Ohio.
A funnel cloud forms in West Mansfield, Ohio.

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CNN's Miles O'Brien reports on residents' cleanup efforts in the wake of the storms (November 12)
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CNN's John Vause reports on the deadly storms that ripped though the Southeast and parts of the Midwest. (November 11)
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Ohio's Van Wert County is hit hard. Affiliate WANE reports. (November 11)
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(CNN) -- Emergency workers and stunned residents across the South and Great Lakes regions picked through shattered homes and buildings Monday after a string of tornadoes left at least 36 people dead and dozens injured.

Homes, schools, churches and businesses were flattened from Alabama to Pennsylvania after more than 70 tornadoes touched down.

Most of those killed were in Tennessee, where 17 people died; 12 died in Alabama, five in Ohio, one in Pennsylvania and one in Mississippi.

One of the hardest-hit communities was Mossy Grove in northeastern Tennessee, where a tornado cut a swath about a mile wide and a mile long, killing eight people in the Appalachian town and surrounding Morgan County.

One of the town's residents remained unnaccounted for Tuesday, according to Steve Hamby, director of emergency management in Morgan County. As many as 150 people had been missing as late as Monday afternoon.

On the wet grass on a rural road lay a television remote control, prescription bottles and family photographs.

"Everybody's hugging each other and just glad to see that everybody's all right," said Paulette Dyke, owner of a Citgo gas station.

Dyke said her store survived intact only because the front and back doors had blown open, allowing the wind to move through.

Four of the dead were in a car trying to outrun the storm when the tornado tossed their vehicle. Another was a volunteer firefighter who rushed to a scene and had a heart attack.

The storm hit during Sunday night services at the New Life Apostolic Church in Mossy Grove, badly damaging the church. The storm partially collapsed the building's roof and shattered glass, sending parishioners scrambling under pews for safety. No one in the church was injured.

David Gunther said he grabbed his 3-year-old daughter, jumped under a pew and started praying.

"When you have a child, you just want to protect them. That was my first instinct," he told CNN. "We got in the doors just in time."

"We were just praying like we had never prayed before. ... God kept his hand on us," said another congregation member, Kevin Davis.

In northwest Ohio there was vivid evidence of the devastation that might have been. Rows of plush blue seats were all that remained of the movie theater in the town of Van Wert, where dozens of people were watching a movie minutes before the tornado hit with winds topping 207 mph.

"All heck broke loose," said Scott Shaffer, who manages the theater and evacuated the patrons to the cinema's cinder-block interior. Some told stories of crowding inside the women's bathroom for cover.

"It was all confusion and chaos. I never want to experience that again," Shaffer said. "I'm still confused for words."

The town's mayor said an early-warning system gave them enough time to find safety.

"I'm telling you today, there are 70 people alive, at least in Van Wert County, that wouldn't have been had that system not been put in place," said Mayor Steven Gehres.

Five people were killed and dozens more injured in Van Wert, Putnam and Seneca counties. Ohio Gov. Bob Taft declared a state of emergency in Van Wert and Ottawa counties.

Alabama officials credited early warnings and watches for saving lives in their state. Still, the storms left 12 people dead -- 10 of them in Walker County, northwest of Birmingham.

"It's like somebody wrapped up sticks of dynamite and just blew these homes into little tiny pieces," said Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman on a tour of Walker County.

Siegelman declared a state of emergency across the state and said officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be heading to the state Tuesday.

"This was a huge, devastating impact for the state of Alabama," Siegelman said. "We're going to do everything we can to help get their lives, and their homes, and their businesses back together."

In Walker County, Carbon Hill Junior High was one of many buildings badly damaged in the storm. That the storm struck on a Sunday, when school was not in session, was a blessing, the governor said.

"There's always a silver lining on any dark cloud," Siegelman said. (Read more about damage in Carbon Hill)

In Mississippi's Lowndes County, a man was killed Sunday night when storms swept through the area, an official said. Fifty-five people were injured, 60 homes were damaged or destroyed and 10 businesses were destroyed in the county, which borders Alabama.

Tornadoes since 1950

Cumberland County, Tenn.:
Coffee County, Tenn.: 9
Walker County, Ala.: 22
Cullman County, Ala.: 40
Pickens County, Ga.: 6
Van Werth County, Ohio: 9

Source: The Tornado Project

The storm slammed the Mississippi University for Women, destroying the gymnasium and two dorms and damaging the student union building, she said.

Officials in northwestern Pennsylvania said one person was killed and others injured as storms passed through Mercer County.

Severe storms also roared through McCreary County in southeastern Kentucky. In Pine Knot, about 15 miles west of Williamsburg, part of the roof was torn from East Tabernacle Church, according to Lt. Stephen Dilreath of the McCreary County Fire Department.

The storms puzzled scientists because tornadoes rarely touch down in the South at this time of year.

And according to the Tornado Project, an online encyclopedia of tornado data, no tornadoes have been reported in November in the three most affected Tennessee counties since detailed record-keeping began in 1950.

Until Monday, Morgan County had recorded only three tornadoes in the past 52 years, one each in the months of March, April and May, according to the Tornado Project.

Jeff Evans, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center, called it the worst outbreak of tornadoes he had seen in years. In May 1999, 44 people were killed in an outbreak of tornadoes in Kansas and Oklahoma.

John Hart, a forecaster with the Storms Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said preliminary figures showed more than 70 tornadoes touched down between Sunday afternoon and Monday morning.

CNN Meteorologist Jacqui Jerras said storms were expected through Tuesday afternoon from Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

She said the storms were not likely to be as powerful as those that hit Sunday night and early Monday.

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