Image: Saturday's tornado damaged many homes in northeast Raleigh, N.C. are shown on Tuesday, April 19
Chris Seward  /  AP
Residents return to storm-ravaged neighborhoods in Raleigh, N.C. Tuesday. Thousands of people hit by the most active tornado outbreak recorded in North Carolina's history were clearing away rubble and debris, repairing power lines and facing a recovery that will cost tens of millions of dollars.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/20/2011 7:24:51 AM ET 2011-04-20T11:24:51

Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes could hit much of the South Wednesday, a forecaster warned, a day after President Barack Obama declared a major disaster for 18 counties in storm-ravaged North Carolina.

The state's governor, Beverly Perdue, asked the federal government for help, seeking low-interest loans for farmers and loans and grants to help others repair their homes and businesses.

The state estimated the recent tornadoes damaged or destroyed more than 800 homes. Perdue also said her office has set up a disaster relief fund that will accept donations.

The tornado that carved through North Carolina's capital killed four children, shuttered a university for the rest of the spring semester and felled the signature trees in the metropolis known as the "City of Oaks."

It was the most active system of tornadoes on record in the state's history, leading to 23 deaths. In Raleigh, one of the nation's fastest-growing cities, the death toll and property damages underscored the massive costs that can be inflicted when a tornado makes a rare venture into areas of dense population.

In all, the storm killed 45 people in six states.

And Kevin Roth, lead meteorologist at The Weather Channel, warned severe thunderstorms were possible Wednesday in eastern Tennessee, western and central areas of North and South Carolina, northern and central parts of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, northern Louisiana, southern Arkansas and eastern Texas.

"Damaging winds, hail and isolated tornadoes are possible with the strongest cells," he wrote. "Thunderstorms continue in northern Alabama, northern Mississippi, western Tennessee, Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma tonight. A few of the stronger storms could produce gusty winds and some hail."

"A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible along the Gulf coast from New Orleans to Fort Myers during the afternoon and evening," he added.

Roth also warned that isolated severe thunderstorms were possible in southern New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. Between 6 to 12 inches of snow could fall in northern Maine, he added.

Crews struggle
North Carolina was by far the hardest-hit of the states hits by Saturday's storms.

More than three days after the storm, crews struggled Tuesday to restore electricity and infrastructure there, with a key commuting interstate briefly shut down to fix downed power lines.

Outside her apartment in downtown Raleigh, 71-year-old Elsie McKeithan wondered whether residents understood that a tornado could strike an urban area, especially with such ferocity. The storm tore the roof from the three-story apartment where she lived, rain pouring in.

"I don't think anybody grasped the concept it was going to come through downtown Raleigh," she said.

Five blocks away, Shaw University officials canceled the remainder of the semester because the storm ripped off roofs and shattered windows at campus buildings. Students were to receive grades for the work they had completed.

Up the road, even the headquarters of Progress Energy — the utility that provides electricity across much of the region — lost power and had to rely on a backup generator. The electricity was restored a day later.

Video: The storm-ravaged embrace kindness from strangers (on this page)

The tornado inflicted its worst damage just beyond the city center, in a mobile home park with winds over 110 mph. Rosa Gutierrez said the tornado spun her trailer off its foundation, smashed windows and left her family huddled together.

Inside, her husband said prayers. Outside, she heard car alarms, and then a neighbor's cries for help: "My kids are under there! My kids are under there!"

The neighbor, Christina Alvarez, implored neighbors to help lift the huge tree that had flattened her trailer, where she had taken cover in a closet with her infant daughter, son and two nephews she was babysitting. The three boys lay beneath the tree.

"She was screaming, 'Please take it off, get it off them,' but the tree was too big," Gutierrez said. Gutierrez's husband, Manuel, leapt over the fallen tree. He could feel the boys' hands under the branches, but knew it was too late.

Alvarez was bleeding, and in her arms was 6-month-old Yaire Quistian Nino, who was severely injured and later died at a hospital.

"The baby's head was squashed," Gutierrez said quietly Tuesday at Heritage High School in Wake Forest, which had been turned into a shelter for the residents of the Stony Brook North Mobile Home Park.

Slideshow: Dozens dead after storms rip through 6 states (on this page)

Yaire was fourth victim from the home. Her 9-year-old brother Daniel Quistian-Nino and her two cousins, 8-year-old Osvaldo Coronado-Nino and 3-year-old Kevin Uriel Coronado-Nino were also killed.

The parents of the cousins were at work and have been in seclusion since Saturday, but friends and neighbors recalled a happy extended family. The children were outgoing and always had a large cast of playmates in the racially and ethnically diverse mobile home park about five miles north of downtown.

"We all know each other here," said Irene Ortiz through a bilingual volunteer at the temporary shelter. "They were my neighbors for two years. The children were always very happy, outside playing. The boys' mother and father adored them."

Ortiz's youngest son, 16, would often watch over Daniel and Osvaldo, cousins who were practically inseparable because they were so close together in age.

"They were always riding their bicycles around the park, the two of them together," she said.

The tornado that tore through Raleigh was the longest-lasting and among the most powerful to hit the state. The damage carved a line so straight that 60 miles of damage can be plotted on a map with a ruler.

In total, the National Weather Service has identified 25 tornadoes that touched down across North Carolina. Meteorologist Ryan Ellis said the event rivaled a March 1984 outbreak that produced 22 tornadoes. The event included more powerful systems and killed twice as many people, but was largely isolated to the Interstate 95 corridor.

Saturday's outbreak spread across more than half the state — from near Winston-Salem to the Outer Banks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: The storm-ravaged embrace kindness from strangers

Photos: Dozens dead after storms rip through 6 states

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  1. Dade County High School student Marcella Lackey, second left, dances with Craig Holmes, left, at her high school prom in Dade County, Ga., on Saturday, May 14. Two weeks after a tornado devastated their town, students from Dade County High came together for their prom, hoping the traditional teenage rite of passage can help them regain a sense of normalcy. (Billy Weeks / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. An aerial photo taken on April 17 shows a home severely damaged by a tornado that ripped through Gloucester, Va. on April 16. Tornadoes and flash flooding have left several people dead in Virginia, and crews are continuing to assess damage that severe weekend storms caused across several areas of the state. (Randall Greenwell / The Virginian-Pilot via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Tornado victim Clay Anderson, left, with his dog Mindy, sits on the steps of his back porch and talks with American Red Cross volunteer Kathi Garrett in the Saint Andrews community in Sanford, N.C. on April 17. (Wesley Beeson / The Sanford Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Nathaniel Ramey, left, comforts Megan Hurst at her grandmother's house in Askewville, N.C. on April 17 after a tornado struck the previous day. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. This aerial photo taken on April 17 shows a home severely damaged by a tornado that ripped through Gloucester, Va. on April 16. (Randall Greenwell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Kathy Gay looks up at the damaged ceiling in the home of her brother Gary Jordan on April 17 in Gloucester, Va. (Steve Earley / The Virginian-Pilot via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A car is swallowed up by a hole left after a tree fell as a tornado passed just south of downtown Raleigh, N.C. on April 17. (Stan Gilliland / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The remains of two school buses at Page Middle School in Gloucester, Va. on April 17, a day after the tornado hit. (Steve Earley / The Virginian-Pilot via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Chris Nelson hugs his daughter Andrea, 15, in the parking lot in front of Lowe's hardware store in Sanford, N.C. on April 17, a day after a tornado destroyed the building while the Nelsons were inside shopping. The Nelsons returned Sunday to reclaim their truck, back right. (Ted Richardson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. An aerial photo shows tornado damage at the Lowe's Home Improvement Center in Sanford, N.C. on April 17. (Thomas Babb / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Mary Grady sits in her neighbor's yard where she rode out a tornado in Askewville, N.C. on April 17. Her home was destroyed in the storm. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A woman inspects her home and car in Raleigh, N.C. on April 17, after homes and businesses were badly damaged Saturday by a severe storm system that whipped across the state. It brought flash floods, hail and reports of tornadoes from the western hills to the streets of Raleigh. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Debris fill the street after a tornado hit Raleigh, N.C., April 17. Tornadoes tore through the Carolinas on Saturday afternoon as the death toll rose to at least 45 people from the storms across the southern United States over the last three days. (Chris Keane / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Raleigh police officer J.L. Bloodworth speaks with a man seeking information about relatives who live at the Stoney Brook Mobile Home Park in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, April 16, where three people where killed. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A worker takes a picture of the damage left behind by a tornado in Raleigh, N.C. (Chris Keane / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Jeffrey Tan, 13, left, sits on the tree that fell on his great-grandmother's house, Saturday, April 16, in Raleigh, N.C. (Chris Seward / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. An auto repair shop lost its back wall and roof after a tornado ripped through the area, Saturday, April 16, in Raleigh, N.C. (Robert Willett / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Emergency personnel confer in front of Lowe's Home Improvement after it was hit by a tornado in Sanford, N.C., Saturday, April 16. "The Lowe's Home Improvement has been flattened," said Monica Elliott, who works at the nearby Brick City Grill. "It's totally destroyed." (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A.C. Bivens looks at the damage to his home after a tornado ripped through Washington County, Ala., on April 16. (Dan Anderson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Family and friends go through the debris of what is left of Gene Box's trailer after a tornado killed her and two of her children while ripping through Washington County, Ala., on April 16. (Dan Anderson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Only stairs and flowers remain Saturday, April 16, after severe winds tore a mobile home off its lot late Friday night in Boone's Chapel, Ala. (Amanda Sowards / Montgomery Advertiser via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Bill Mosley, right, urges his daughter Lisa Mosley to walk carefully through the spare bedroom, fearful that she step on a roofing nail as the two gather possessions from the tornado damaged house in Clinton, Miss., Friday, April 15. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Standing amid downed trees and destroyed houses, members of Southside Baptist Church of Yazoo City, give a prayer of thanks following several hours of work cutting up trees and removing storm debris in this Clinton, Miss., neighborhood, Friday, April 15. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A car drives through a partially flooded street, Friday, April 15, 2011 in Decatur, Ala. (John Godbey / The Decatur Daily via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Storms continue to brew as I-20 is shut down after a morning tornado downed power lines and overturned cars and trucks Friday, April 15, in Clinton, Miss. (Brian Albert Broom / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Friends and neighbors help tornado stricken residents remove possessions in east Clinton, Miss., Friday, April 15. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A billboard lays collapsed on the ground after a tornado went through Friday, April 15, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Michelle Lepianka Carter / The Tuscaloosa News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Makala Welch helps her grandparents clean up after a tornado touched down in Clinton, Miss., April 15. (Charles Smith / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Jerome Whittington attempts to salvage belongings through the window of his automobile in Tushka, Okla., Friday, April 15. (Sue Ogrocki / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Two women stand in the middle of what used to be houses after a large tornado hit the small town of 350 people, killing two, in Tushka, Okla., April 15. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. A woman removes belongings from a house damaged after a large tornado hit Tushka, Okla., April 15. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Evan Whitehead walks past a family member's vehicle and house while looking for belongings after a large tornado hit Tushka, Okla., April 15. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Volunteers pitch in to remove branches from a fallen oak tree in Tushka, Okla., Friday, April 15, following a tornado. (Sue Ogrocki / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Denym Pingleton, left, carries her books out of the inside of what is left of their school with fellow students Kayla Wilhite, right, and Courtney Wilhite after a large tornado hit Tushka, Okla., April 15. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A severe storm passes over east Tulsa and the Renaissance Hotel, in Tulsa, Okla., April 14. (James Gibbard / Tulsa World via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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Interactive: Birth of a tornado

  1. Above: Interactive Birth of a tornado
  2. Interactive 2011 tornado season

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