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Storm-ravaged Tennessee digs out from tornado strikes

January 18, 1999
Web posted at: 3:29 p.m. EST (2029 GMT)

JACKSON, Tennessee (CNN) -- Eight people have been confirmed dead, more than 100 were injured and at least 10 are missing after a series of tornadoes swept across western and middle Tennessee on Sunday evening.

Jackson residents picked their way through wrecked homes and businesses Monday morning, trying to assess the damage left behind by storms that killed six people in the town and surrounding Madison County.

Two other counties, Hardeman and Henderson, each reported one person dead, said Kurt Pickering, a spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

At Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, 71 people were treated for injuries overnight, and 10 were hospitalized in critical condition Monday morning, hospital spokeswoman Jan Boud said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending a disaster team into the storm-ravaged area, Vice President Al Gore announced Monday afternoon. Gore, who is from Tennessee, said he will visit the area once it is clear that his visit would not hamper relief efforts.

Twisters were sighted and reported as far east as Nashville, Pickering said, and it is likely that multiple tornadoes struck the Jackson area.

"When we look at county maps, we have four sightings in 12 counties in a short enough period of time that it is highly doubtful it was all one twister," Pickering said. "We're getting damage reports from 28 different counties."

Scores of homes and commercial buildings in and around Jackson were destroyed or heavily damaged. Among the buildings destroyed were a shopping center, a funeral home, a fire station and an apartment complex. The town's National Guard armory and two Guard helicopters were destroyed as well.

In Bemis, a community just south of Jackson, firefighters had been called out of the station just minutes before it was demolished.

One firefighter reported seeing a large funnel cloud pick up a car and bounce its passenger around the interior.

"He got in, but the tornado was pulling on him, and he was strapped in the seat, and his head was hitting the moon roof," the firefighter said.

Streets remained littered with debris, and power was still out in downtown Jackson early Monday afternoon, though it had been restored in some other areas.

The Tennessee Highway patrol sent 35 troopers to assist the police in Jackson, and the National Guard has been called in to help with the cleanup.

The tornadoes came through Jackson about 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Some residents reported hearing tornado sirens, and warnings were given over local radio and television stations.

Storm damage also was reported in Arkansas and Mississippi.

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