Image: Damaged home in Vale, N.C.
Chuck Burton  /  AP
Pieces of the roof and ceiling litter the floor of a bedroom in a damaged home in Vale, N.C., on Wednesday after powerful thunderstorms moved through the area.
NBC News and news services
updated 10/28/2010 7:22:35 AM ET 2010-10-28T11:22:35

People from the Dakotas to North Carolina were dealing with the aftermath of a massive storm that roared across the country, unleashing 56 tornadoes, rain, flooding and eventually snow to some places, leaving behind plenty of destruction.

The Weather Channel's preliminary count of tornadoes totalled 42 on Tuesday and 14 on Wednesday, making it the second-largest October outbreak on record. In Oct. 2007, 62 tornadoes were recorded.

Heavy snow and strong winds battered the Dakotas for a second day Wednesday, with visibility reduced by blowing snow and roadways covered by ice, snow and slush.

"It's not good to be out here for anybody," Highway Patrol Capt. Eric Pederson said. "It's just tough going anywhere."

Conditions were improving early Thursday and fall-like weather was expected to return later this week, as the front that brought the wild ride makes its way off the East Coast.

'We didn't have time to do anything'
In North Carolina, Yolanda Corona prayed she wouldn't die when winds from the massive storm blew through her neighborhood

She was watching television with 10 relatives when the windows blew out of the living room. The chimney caved in. A tree plunged through the roof.

The family huddled in a back bedroom, whispering prayers, crying and holding each other. Somehow, they survived.

"We thought we were going to die. We were just so scared. We didn't have time to do anything. We all just listened and prayed for our lives," Jessica Vargas, Corona's 18-year-old granddaughter, recalled Wednesday.

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The family's possessions had been strewn around their muddy yard the night before. No one was seriously hurt, but now the family must find somewhere to live.

The rare, fast-moving storm that destroyed their home started in the Midwest on Tuesday, moving into the southern and eastern U.S.

In suburban Chicago, Helen Miller, 41, was hurt when a branch fell about 65 feet from a large tree, crashed into her car and impaled her stomach. Doctors removed the branch and Miller's husband said she asked him to hang on to it.

"She wants to save it for an art project or something," Todd Miller told the Chicago Sun-Times. "She's a bit of a free spirit, so I ran with it."

The Weather Channel reported that at least 11 tornadoes touched down in Indiana, four in Kentucky, and eight in Ohio, including one with gusts of at least 111 mph that ripped through a village in the northwest part of the state, destroying several homes. Tornadoes were confirmed or suspected as far east as Virginia and power was out for a time to countless customers.

Instability
Pat Tanner, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Greer, S.C., said a cold front is moving east and meeting warm, moist air causing instability in the atmosphere and spawning the storms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the storm had a pressure reading Tuesday that was among the lowest ever in a non-tropical storm in the mainland U.S.

Tornadoes whirled through Racine County, Wis., where two people were injured when a section of roof was torn off a tractor factory, and Peotone, Ill., where three people were injured when a home's roof came off.

Tornado watches and warnings were issued all across the country.

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In North Carolina, at least 11 people were hurt by the winds that destroyed Corona's home, but none seriously.

"We just thank God that everyone is safe," said Corona, who had some cuts on her leg.

Nearby, Douvhen Hanby was in his backyard when he saw the fast-moving funnel cloud head toward his house. He scrambled inside and yelled for his wife and four children to "hit the floor" in the living room. Seconds later, the house began shaking.

When the winds died down about two minutes later, the family — and their home — were more or less fine. Hanby ran to the next door to a neighbor's mobile home, which had been shredded.

He dug through the rubble with his hands, looking for the woman and four children. He found them curled up in a ball under some pieces of tin.

"They were scared, shaking. Then when it hit them they were alive, they started crying," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Menacing storms hit Mid-Atlantic

  1. Transcript of: Menacing storms hit Mid-Atlantic

    Another big story in the news again tonight: the weather. A storm that has covered half of the United States , much of North America for that matter. In size and scope, the storm is a monster. Look at that. It would be a Category 3 if it was on water. It set a record for intensity. And the heart of the storm itself hasn't really moved much. It's still parked right there over northern Minnesota . But look at the damage that springs out from it and then pinwheels around the country. Our own Tom Costello has been following it all from Washington . Tom , good evening.

    TOM COSTELLO reporting: Hi, Brian. Much of the country feels windblown tonight, having endured 40 to 60 mile per hour winds, rain, tornadoes, and setting records along the way. Never in recorded US history have they seen barometric pressures this low, never! Cutting across much of the country's midsection today, a trail of destruction. Injuries but no deaths. In North Carolina , mobile homes were torn apart, houses shredded, trees uprooted. In Illinois , back-to-back tornadoes.

    Unidentified Man #1: Right behind that tornado, when it was on the ground, there was a smaller one probably three to 500 feet behind it, but it did not touch the ground.

    COSTELLO: And an entire barn blown away.

    Unidentified Man #2: My wife called me up and she says the barn blew down.

    COSTELLO: In suburban Chicago , a massive tree crashed through Helen Miller 's car, impaling her on a limb. She survived.

    Mr. TODD MILLER (Victim's Husband): It fell just below the lungs, but just above the stomach. So effectively it only punctured some fat and some muscle tissue.

    COSTELLO: Both Wisconsin and Minnesota set all-time record barometric pressure lows. That set up a condition meteorologists call a weather bomb .

    GREG FORBES reporting: Gusting 40, in some places over 60 mile per hour , all across the Northern Plains and spreading into the Great Lakes states .

    COSTELLO: It all helped feed 400 severe wind events and a string of tornadoes across the Northern Plains and the Midwest states. In total, more than 24 tornadoes. The Weather Channel 's Mike Seidel is on Lake Michigan .

    MIKE SEIDEL reporting: For the second day in a row, we've been hammered by 50 to 60 mile an hour wind gusts, reconfiguring the entire beach. This dune wasn't even here yesterday morning.

    COSTELLO: Tornadoes also ripped through communities in Tennessee and Alabama .

    Unidentified Woman: Horrifying, honestly, to be -- I mean, it was just really scary.

    COSTELLO: And the bad weather continued through the day. Atlanta was in the eye of the storm through much of the afternoon. In Washington , a driving rain midday. While out West , snow in Salt Lake and a taste of a season to come. Well, it's all led to hundreds of flight cancellations and delays of one to two hours everywhere from Minneapolis to Chicago , Atlanta all the way up to the East Coast . The good news is a colder front is moving through, and by tomorrow, Brian , the worst should be over.

    WILLIAMS: But first, a second straight wild night for millions of Americans. Tom Costello in Washington . Tom , as always, thanks. When

Interactive: Midwest storms

  1. Above: Interactive Midwest storms
  2. Interactive Birth of a tornado

Photos: Storms and tornados roar across U.S.

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  1. Jack Hambrick sits inside his destroyed home in Vale, N.C., on Wednesday, Oct. 27, after powerful thunderstorms moved through the area. At least eleven people were hurt and eight homes damaged when a possible tornado touched down Tuesday evening, emergency officials said. (Chuck Burton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Steps to a landing is all that remains from a mobile home destroyed in Vale, N.C. The Weather Channel reported 11 tornadoes in Indiana, four in Kentucky and eight in Ohio on Tuesday. (Chuck Burton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Jessica Vargas, left, embraces her sister Carmen Vargas outside their grandmother's damaged home in Vale, N.C., on Oct. 27. (Chuck Burton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Eric Allen checks on the damage caused to a neighbor's house after a tree fell on it during a storm in Richmond, Va., Wednesday. Thousands were without power following the destructive wind that spawned dozens of tornadoes. (James H. Wallace / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Chris Bobryk, left, of Whitehall, Mich., and Brad Knoth, of Hudsonville, walk out with their surf boards at Grand Haven's north pier on Lake Michigan on Tuesday, Oct. 26. Both are kite surfers but winds peaking at 56 mph at a nearby weather station were too strong Tuesday. Waves were measured at 11.5 feet from a buoy in the middle of Lake Michigan off South Haven. (Cory Morse / The Muskegon Chronicle via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Utility workers disassemble a downed power line on Wednesday. It had fallen onto the Case-New Holland plant in Mount Pleasant, Wis., near Racine, when heavy winds and an F1 tornado passed through Tuesday morning. (Scott Anderson / Journal Times via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Todd Miller holds a broken tree limb in Libertyville, Ill., on Tuesday as he discusses how his wife, Helen, was impaled by the branch after a tree fell on her moving car during a storm in suburban Chicago. The branch pierced her side but didn't strike any vital organs. Helen, who is an art teacher, plans to make it into an art project. (Gilbert R. Boucher Ii / Daily Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Helen Miller was in her car when it was hit by a falling tree in suburban Chicago on Tuesday. (Joe Shuman / Sun-Times Media via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A utility worker removes a power line from a yard in Menasha, Wis., on Wednesday. (Sharon Cekada / The Post Crescent via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A storm looms above the Volkswagen plant training center in Chattanooga, Tenn. on Tuesday. (Tim Barber / Chatanooga Times Free Press via) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Belongings are strewn through a damaged home in Vale, N.C., on Wednesday after powerful thunderstorms moved through the area. Eleven people were hurt and eight homes damaged when a possible tornado touched down Tuesday evening. (Chuck Burton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Leslie Bowen checks on a stray dog near destroyed homes in Vale, N.C., on Wednesday. (Chuck Burton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The remnants of a destroyed home sit across the road from its foundation in Vale, N.C., on Wednesday. (Chuck Burton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Dana Maragos heads to the train station undeterred by strong winds Tuesday in Chicago, Ill. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A suspected tornado damaged the second story of this home near Muncie, Ind., on Tuesday. (Chris Bergin / The Star Press via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Storm clouds pass over Manteno, Ill., on Tuesday. (Joseph P. Meier / Southtown Star via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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Explainer: Reader images of the storm

  • What has the Midwest storm looked like so far? Check out some of the images sent to msnbc.com by readers.

  • Submitted by Penny Hesse

    Penny Hesse: The Pier, Grand Haven Michigan. Time taken: October 26, 2010 - Late afternoon. We had wind gust of at least 60 mph.The sand was just about  blasting the paint off of the car!

  • Submitted by Juli Bishop

    Juli Bishop: This was part of the damage left by the early morning storm at the home of Allan and Judy Rathe in east-central Illinois on 10/26/10 by straight line winds. They are in rural Jasper County. Judy Rathe took the photo.

  • Submitted by Tim Pawlak

    Tim Pawlak: I was on my way to my second class of the day around 10:30 this morning. Driving on 100 N between Kokomo and Greentown, I saw this huge cloud, I stopped my car and studied it a little bit and noticed it was rotating. I thought to myself that it must be a funnel cloud because I study storms and have multiple weather radar programs on my computers that weather watchers use in my county. I was rotating quickly, so I took my phone out and snapped a picture as the funnel was about in the middle of its course back into the sky. It was closer to the ground previously.

  • Submitted by Heather Hammel

    Heather Hammel: WDAZ reporter Ashley McMillan caught this image on video. Sure is windy up in Devils Lake, N.D.

  • Submitted by Michael Cinelli

    Michael Cinelli: Marquette, Michigan, on Lake Superior experienced a windy, very rainy day. Between rain storms the clouds parted for a minute and the double rainbow appeared over the Art and Design building.

  • Submitted by Aileen Overmeyer

    Aileen Overmeyer: Restaurant and garage in Hartford City, Indiana.

  • Submitted by Joann Strickland

    Joann Strickland: Nashville morning sky on Oct. 26th, 2010.

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