Image: Debris chokes a driveway at Hempfield Area Senior High School ain Pa.
Phil Wilson  /  Tribune Review via AP
Debris chokes a driveway at Hempfield Area Senior High School after a storm heavily damaged sections of the school's roof on Wednesday in Greensburg, Pa.
updated 3/24/2011 11:31:55 AM ET 2011-03-24T15:31:55

Strong winds and hail battered a swath of states through the Ohio Valley overnight, damaging cars, homes, knocking over trees and power lines, and spawning at least one tornado.

Tennessee and Pennsylvania appeared to bear the brunt of the bad weather, with reports of tornadoes in both states. But the storm hit portions of at least eight states, also including Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, according to a National Weather Service map.

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The storm can be blamed on a competing mix of warm and cool temperatures across the Ohio Valley, said Paul Walker, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.

"There was cold air clashing with the warm air, causing the atmosphere to be very unstable," he said.

A tornado touched down in southwestern Pennsylvania on Wednesday night, severely damaging dozens of homes and a high school auditorium where students were rehearsing a play, said Kurt Ferguson, manager of Westmoreland County's Hempfield Township.

About 40 houses in the area have been deemed uninhabitable, based on an initial damage assessment, he said. Some were essentially "blown apart," while others were badly damaged.

No serious injuries have been reported due to the tornado, which touched down shortly before 6 p.m. local time, according to Ferguson. The Red Cross has set up shelters, and the township plans to send emergency workers into the tornado-hit areas with food.

On one road, as many as 50 trees had been uprooted and power lines had fallen, Ferguson said.

"We couldn't even get to all the areas affected," he said.

About 100 students were rehearsing a play in an auditorium at Hempfield Area High School when the tornado struck, ripping off part of the roof, he said. They were evacuated from the building safely, Ferguson said.

Lee Hendricks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, said the service had dispatched a team to the area to assess the damage.

"At this point it appears it was a tornado," he said, though details such as its intensity and path have not yet been determined.

In Tennessee, there were reports of roof damage, broken car windows and a barn blown down east of Nashville.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Tornadoes rip through western Pa.

  1. Closed captioning of: Tornadoes rip through western Pa.

    >> this weather. we had everything, rain, hail, even thundersnow. but, man, nothing like the storms in pennsylvania .

    >> looks at that. there's some video of a twister. this is one that did the most damage. it was in greensburg, just outside of pittsburgh. as you can see, caught on tape. as well as a major hail storm there. we're going to get the latest in a live report . al will give us the forecast in a couple of minutes.

    >> in the meantime, we'll get our first look inside the nuclear power plant in japan. you can see the dangerous and dark conditions those heroic workers are battling as they try to restore power to the reactors. and overnight, two workers had to be rushed to the hospital after being exposed to radioactive elements. we'll get details in a live report this morning.

    >> here's the question that i think will be of interest to a lot of parents out there. how far should a school go to protect one student with a severe peanut allergy ? parents are in an uproar over the strict new rules put in place in an elementary school in florida. they claim what's being done there to keep one child safe is hurting other kids' education. we're going to hear from both sides in that story.

    >>> but we begin this morning with severe weather on both coasts. the weather channel 's allison is in greensburg, pennsylvania . allison , good morning to you.

    >> reporter: good morning, matt. as is so often the case when eye-witnesses describe a tornado event, this morning when i spoke to residents on this street, one man said it sounded like a freight train had come right down the street, as he and his wife went to their basement for cover. just the fence in his yard was ripped up, so when he came just a few houses down and looked here at the damage, trees uprooted, power lines twisted, and roofs and portions of the whole houses just ripped away, he was dismayed at what he saw. these are just a few of at least 30 homes that were damaged by a funnel cloud that skipped across westmoreland county and today the narcotic weather service will be on-site to determine how this storm should be rated and whether or not that funnel cloud touched down. but for people who lived here, they say there is no doubt about it, matt.

    >> all right, in pennsylvania for us this morning, allison , thank you very much.

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