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Storms blow across the East Coast as Midwest counts its toll

By the CNN Wire Staff
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Three people die after trees fall during the storm in Atlanta, police say
  • Storms stretch from Maine to Georgia
  • The death toll in Joplin, Missouri, is 126, the coroner says
  • A new list of those unaccounted for is to be released Friday in Joplin

Did you experience the tornado in Joplin, Missouri? Send your photos, videos or stories. Tune in at 8 ET Saturday night for CNN Presents' "A Twister's Fury: In the Path of Destruction." CNN shows you how large parts of Joplin, Missouri, were reduced to rubble in minutes, yet hope remains with amazing stories of survival.

(CNN) -- Severe weather that pummeled large sections of the central United States this week largely spared the eastern third of the country even as the U.S. heartland counted the devastating toll to its communities.

By early Friday, a line of storms stretching from New England to the Deep South, while still active, had dissipated.

Three people died Thursday evening in Atlanta after trees fell on two vehicles, said city police spokeswoman Kim Jones.

Among them was 19 year-old Alonzo Terry Daniel, who was clearing debris from the front of his home when a large oak tree fell on top of him.

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There were numerous reports of wires and trees down throughout the city, but no indication of tornadoes like those that ripped through the central part of the nation this week.

Those storms have killed at least 142 people across four states.

The Missouri city of Joplin took the full force of a massive twister that hit that city Sunday night, killing at least 126 people,

Newton County Coroner Mark Bridges said Thursday night.

Joplin's EF5 twister -- which had winds topping 200 mph -- is the single deadliest tornado in the United States since modern record-keeping began 61 years ago.

Criticism has grown as local authorities struggle to identify the victims' bodies.

Complicating the effort has been the poor condition of many of the bodies, resulting in false identification.

Authorities are relying on information such as dental records, fingerprints, DNA and other data.

"A lot have blood on their face, they don't look like they used to look," Bridges said of the victims.

A federal government team will head the effort to identify the tornado victims after flying in $2 million worth of equipment, Bridges said.

The Missouri Department of Public Safety is compiling and updating a list of the people missing and unaccounted for in Joplin.

The initial list with the 232 people reported missing since Sunday night can be found online at dps.mo.gov.

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Another storm system that peppered the region late Tuesday and early Wednesday left 10 people dead in Oklahoma, four in Arkansas and two in Kansas, authorities said. The numbers fluctuated as officials scrambled to deal with the disaster.

The most severe damage from that round of severe weather appeared to be in central Oklahoma's Canadian County, which includes a sliver of Oklahoma City.

At least seven people were killed and more than 100 were injured, according to the sheriff's department and the county's emergency management office. Others were missing, authorities said.

Cole Hamil, a 15-month-old boy, was among those killed. And on Thursday, authorities found the body of his 3-year-old brother, Ryan, floating in a lake. Their 5-year-old sister Cathleen survived, as did their mother, Catherine Hamil, who is pregnant.

"I lost both of my boys," said a tearful Hank Hamil, the brothers' father, on Thursday.

"Ryan was my little buddy. Cole was, too. I loved them both," said Hamil, who was out of town when the storms struck.

A less deadly, but still destructive, round of severe weather hit Indiana late Wednesday, pounding the town of Bedford.

A tornado flattened the home of 81-year-old Virginia Sowders, who was next door with family at the time the tornado hit. Only a few cinder blocks sat where her home had been 24 hours earlier.

"I didn't know if anyone was alive when I got over here," her daughter, Sandy Miller, told CNN affiliate WXIN-TV on Thursday. "When we got over here, I panicked ... my mother (was) sitting in the driveway ... covered in blood."

The storms left tens of thousands of Duke Energy customers without power across the Hoosier State, with a smaller number losing electricity in Ohio and neighboring states.

It has been a historic tornado season in the United States. More than 500 people have been killed, according to figures from the National Weather Service and local authorities. That makes 2011 the deadliest season since 1953, when 519 people were killed in twisters.

CNN's Ed Payne, Marlena Baldacci, Vivian Kuo, Randi Kaye and Leslie Tripp contributed to this report.

 
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