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Storms kill 22 in Midwest, Southeast

  • Story Highlights
  • 15 dead in Missouri, 1 killed in Georgia, six in Oklahoma, officials say
  • States of emergency declared in Oklahoma, Georgia counties
  • Storm system struck Midwest, then continued into the South
  • President Bush has pledged federal support, has talked to states' governors
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PICHER, Oklahoma (CNN) -- Powerful storms killed 22 people in three states over the weekend, including an Oklahoma mother who died while huddling over her child, authorities said. Her son survived with facial injuries.

Emergency management agencies in two states reported deaths in four counties.

There were six people killed in Ottawa County, Oklahoma; 13 in Newton County, Missouri; one in a small community just east of Carthage in Jasper County, Missouri; and one in Purdy in Barry County, Missouri.

The severe weather moved into the Southeast, killing at least one person in Laurens County, Georgia. Video Watch how the storm hit one Georgia town hard »

The deadly Midwest tornado -- at times, a mile wide -- blew winds estimated at up to 175 miles per hour, tracking a total of 63 miles from Oklahoma to southwest Missouri, according to the National Weather Service. The storms spawned five twisters in Oklahoma and two in neighboring Arkansas.

Possible tornadoes also were reported Sunday evening in the coastal Carolinas, according to the weather service. No injuries or fatalities were immediately reported.

An official surveying the damage in the Midwest said it looked like a "war zone."

"It's just horrific. It's devastating to all of us," said Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, who declared a state of emergency in Ottawa County. "It appears the search and rescue part of the mission is over and now we're in the cleanup phase."

Sherri Mills was in the small Oklahoma town of Picher -- northeast of Tulsa -- trying to find family pictures inside the wreckage that had been a friend's home. Mills said her friend was not home when the tornado struck. Photo See scenes from the devastation »

"Thank God she wasn't here," said Mills, standing in front of the piles of brick and wood. "[She] lost everything. This was a two-story big brick home."

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Another man in Picher said he was home with his family when the storm hit. He said he was blown around inside the home and was lucky to be alive.

"We got down on the floor and huddled up together, and we weren't in there thirty seconds when it hit the house," the man said. "We ended up right there under that door. At least I was under the door. My wife, two granddaughters, and my daughter was all there, just bunched up against each other."Video Watch a longtime pilot say he's never seen such destruction »

President Bush pledged federal support.

"Mother's Day is a sad day for those who lost their lives in Oklahoma, Missouri and Georgia because of the tornadoes," Bush told reporters in Waco, Texas. "We send our prayers for those who lost their lives. The federal government will be moving hard to help."

Aboard Air Force One, Bush contacted Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt and spoke with Henry after arriving at the White House. Bush did not specify what support the federal government would provide.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Federal Emergency Management Agency chief David Paulison also were in touch with the governors and planned to tour the disaster areas Tuesday.

"We will partner with our state counterparts to ensure that we bring the full complement of federal resources to their aid as needed," Paulison said.

Lisa Janak, spokeswoman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, said one person was killed in Dublin, just south of Macon.

And the nearby town of Kite, with about 200 residents, was "significantly damaged," she said.

Earlier, Janak said there were reports that the town was "gone," but added later that those claims were exaggerated.

Perdue declared a state of emergency Sunday in six counties in Georgia. Video Watch how a severe storm took Georgia by surprise »

Authorities fear there may be additional casualties in Missouri, said Susie Stonner, spokeswoman with the state Emergency Management Agency in Jefferson City, Missouri.

A twister touched down in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday and killed six people in Ottawa County, according to emergency officials.

Another 150 were injured and an unknown number of people were missing. No other information was available about the Oklahoma mother who died while huddling over her child.

Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said the town enlisted firefighters from surrounding areas who went house-to-house in a 20-block area, sifting through rubble and searching for survivors.

"It looks like a war zone," she said. "Some homes have fallen in, some homes have lost roofs and some are now just slabs."

Freelance journalist Mike Priest went to a heavy-hit neighborhood in Picher on Sunday, surveying an area where almost all the houses were leveled.


All the residents had evacuated leaving behind, cars, clothes and even their pets, Priest said.

"As you can see some people's pets have been left behind and they are fighting over some food," he said, shooting footage of the scene. "Just total devastation. Houses wiped all the way down to the foundation. You can see what used to be a house in the driveway. The storm was incredibly, incredibly strong right through here."

CNN's Lee Garen, Susan Candiotti and Janet DiGiacomo contributed to this report.

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