Story Highlights• 55 to 60 patients in Americus hospital had to be evacuated
• Twister shredded walls, tossed cars, blew out windows
• More than 200 homes in town of 17,000 severely damaged
• 20 people across three states died, two of them in Americus
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AMERICUS, Georgia (CNN) -- When nurse Dana Rylander arrived for work at Sumter Regional Hospital on Friday, she was stunned.
She had no idea that a tornado had ripped through Americus, Georgia, the night before -- killing two people, shredding parts of the hospital, tossing cars on top of each other and severely damaging more than 200 homes in this town of 17,000.
"It's gone. It's just gone," she said, looking up at the hospital where dozens of windows were blown out, part of its fašade sheared off and glass scattered everywhere.
At the hospital's entrance, a 2-by-4 was implanted in a cinder block wall. Large rocks that had been used to help drainage on the roof were hurled like baseballs, smashing through cars in the parking lot.
But the damage wasn't limited to the hospital. Across the town, trees were uprooted and tossed like sticks. The front of a Winn-Dixie grocery store was ripped off and most of the roof of a medical center, about a block from the main hospital, was peeled off.
A Salvation Army building housing clothing and other emergency aid was heavily damaged. The nearby Red Cross headquarters also was hit.
"This is the worst we've seen in this area in a long time," said Col. Eric Bryant with the sheriff's department.
Some houses were turned into heaps of twisted wood and drywall. Bryant said more than 200 homes were severely damaged or destroyed in the northeastern part of town. Power was out to half the residents.
About 200 to 300 emergency workers were in town, helping clear debris and searching for survivors. Mobile emergency command centers were set up, and a shelter was established at First Baptist Church.
Two people were killed in Americus in the northeastern section of town, Bryant said.
"We're encouraging residents to try to stay inside and off the streets so we can clear the roads," he said.
Altogether, storms across the Southeast killed 20 people, all in Missouri, Georgia and Alabama. (Full story)
A crisis on top of another crisis
Thursday night's tornado struck between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. ET. When it hit the hospital, it created an additional crisis: a place for tending to the victims and possibly saving lives suddenly had to be evacuated.
Schelly Murray, a nurse manager at the hospital, said about 55 to 60 patients were in the building when it was hit. Three of them were in critical condition.
All the patients have since been transferred to other hospitals, she said. Nobody died at the hospital, Murray said. Bryant, with the sheriff's department, said first responders from throughout the area chipped in to help transport patients.
However, Murray said, the damage to the facility is extensive. She was off-duty at the time of the storm and called in about 9:15 p.m.
"Inside the hospital, we have structural damage in our ceiling. We have a lot of water. All of our windows have been blown out," she said. "It's amazing."
CNN's Jeanne Meserve and Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.