Image: Daniel Mulder, Rachael Mulder
Dave Martin  /  AP
Daniel Mulder hugs his wife, Rachael, near their destroyed home in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday. Mulder and his wife survived the tornado hiding in a tub.
By AP National Writer
updated 4/30/2011 11:16:24 PM ET 2011-05-01T03:16:24

All morning at work, the boss' wife stared at the storm alerts flashing across the television screen and fretted. By 2:30 p.m., when they closed the restoration shop early and sent employees home, Jonathan Ford paid little mind to the sunshine overhead.

Fear of weather was playing havoc with his day. Ford had been hearing tornado warnings since he was a kid. And though he'd always done what he'd been told and sought out shelter, the 21-year-old found it hard sometimes to take the alerts too seriously.

But this warning, in addition to cutting work short, had also canceled his night classes at Jefferson State Community College. That left Ford in his pickup, with instructions from his mother to stop only for bread and dog food, then come straight back to their neighborhood of towering oaks and neat brick homes in the rolling hills west of Birmingham. Dinner would be waiting in the microwave, he knew. And the dogs, Smokie and Ginger, would no doubt be glad to see him.

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Across the South, in thousands of homes like the Fords', the hours of repeated tornado warnings had seeded a strange kind of tension: well-founded and very real fears pushing up hard against a tempting illusion — one encouraged by the momentarily gentle afternoon weather and unexpected free time — that the state of alert might turn out to be nothing at all.

In Rainsville, Ala., to the northeast, Donald Tidmore and his family sat down to an early dinner of taco salad that still left him with time for a nap on the couch. In the town of Phil Campbell, Ala., Gloria Butts worked on her taxes, waiting for her husband, a pastor, to come home from church. Further east in Barnesville, Ga., Dennis and Nealy Strom tucked their two children in to bed and settled under the covers to watch the news, reassured by reports that the worst would pass them by.

Evening had come early, under Alabama skies blue enough to inspire a tune.

But the darkest hour was just minutes away.

Watching warnings and waiting
With the tornado warnings gaining urgency, the Fords' next-door neighbors on 12th Street, teachers Debra and Rick Patterson, also got off from work early.

Video: Recovery efforts going full-force

Alabama's high school baseball playoffs were starting and Rick, coach of the Hueytown Gophers, had planned an afternoon practice for his team. But the storm had left him with little choice but to cover the field with a tarp and hope for the best. Instead of heading home to meet his wife, he drove to the hotel in Bessemer where they'd been staying since early March, ever since a kitchen fire forced them out. Just this week, city inspectors had given contractors the go-ahead to start renovations that would get them back home. But for all the inconvenience, the fire had taught Debra Patterson a life lesson: You could lose material possessions and still come out whole.

Image: Tornado victims save what they can from homes Friday after they were destroyed by a powerful tornado in Pleasant Grove, Ala.
John Bazemore  /  AP
Tornado victims save what they can from homes Friday after they were destroyed by a powerful tornado in Pleasant Grove, Ala.

Now, in their room at the Fairfield Inn, the Pattersons turned on the television and shared the hotdogs Debra had picked up on her way, paying closer attention as the promised clouds began to blot the sky. About 4:20 p.m., a newscaster announced that a powerful storm cell was bearing down on Tuscaloosa, about 45 miles to the southwest. Debra immediately called to warn her daughter, Stacy, a sophomore at the University of Alabama.

"Baby, you have to go downstairs," Debra told her daughter.

Deadliest days

At about the same time, on the second floor of the Charleston Square Apartments eight blocks from the Alabama campus, Daniel Mulder, a 24-year-old senior at the university, studied quietly for the final exam in cell biology final while his wife, Rachael, a first-year nurse, slept off the wear and tear of her night shift at the hospital.

Mulder had heard Tuscaloosa's tornado warning sirens go off before. Nothing ever seemed to come of it, so he wasn't particularly concerned when they began sounding yet again. He looked out the window: sunny and calm.

Not far away, in Tuscaloosa's Alberta City neighborhood, Roosevelt and Maggie Lee were tracking those same warnings. The Lees had been married for less than three weeks and Roosevelt, a 47-year-old minister, had moved from Selma to the campus town to be with his new bride.

From inside the wood-frame house they share with Maggie Lee's daughter and two granddaughters they could hear the wind begin to swirl across the roofline and around the windows.

Video: Devastating losses, but people still thankful (on this page)

At home in Pleasant Grove, Jonathan Ford ate the chicken and noodles his mother, Beverly, had set aside for him. When she left to take shelter at her boyfriend's home because it had a basement, Ford told her he'd stay put to take care of the dogs. He settled in to the reclining chair to watch the television news of the storm and listened with new urgency at reports that Bessemer was in the crosshairs. He called his girlfriend, Tara Rudloff, at her home near there.

"It's about to hit you all. Take care," Ford told her. "I love you."

Minutes later, hail began pelting the Ford house, making it sound like someone was throwing rocks against the windows.

At the same time, across the state in Rainsville, Donald Tidmore left work at the Heil garbage truck factory under a calm, partially sunny sky. Just as the family sat down to dinner, the power went out and they ate in shadows. But there seemed little to worry about. Tidmore fell asleep on the couch, while his stepson, Wells, went to his room and texted with friends.

The warnings back in Tuscaloosa, though, were growing more dire as the sky darkened and the wind picked up. Then, just before 5:30 p.m., it began to howl.

"It kept building and building," Mulder says. "I thought, 'Wow, something's happening out there.' It didn't kick in all at once. I had to sit and listen for a moment. 'Is this real, do we need to take cover?'"

Video: Storms turn sports enemies into allies (on this page)

He made a split-second decision, dashing into the bedroom where his wife was sleeping. "Hey, Rachael!" he yelled. "We have to get in the bathtub! Get in the tub now!"

Just then the power went dead, and the couple fumbled their way toward the bathroom in the dark. In the tub, Rachael sobbed with fear, folding herself into a ball as her husband wrapped his arms around her. Outside their cocoon, the storm shrieked like "nails on a chalkboard."

At the Lees' house, the wind outside mutated into a roar.

That was enough for Roosevelt Lee. The minister hustled his family toward the back of the house, directing everyone to an old iron bathtub and ordered his wife and the children — 15-year-old daughter Faris, 7-year-old granddaughter Madison and 1-year-old granddaughter Brendanee — inside. Then he flung himself on top of them like a blanket.

No sooner had they formed a sandwich of bodies than the Lees heard the splintering and popping of wood and metal — the sounds of the house being peeling away from around them.

Then a back wall exploded off the foundation and the outside thundered in, lifted the tub with five passengers aboard off the floor — and sucked it out through the gaping opening like a torpedo.

Storm swallows whole sky
At the hotel in Bessemer, the Pattersons leaned toward the televisions as reports came in that Tuscaloosa had been hit hard. But when they were able to reach their daughter by cell and heard she was safe, they figured the worst was over. They joined other hotel guests in the parking lot, staring toward the western horizon as the enormous funnel cloud a few miles to the west.

Slideshow: Severe storms rip across U.S. (on this page)

Debra had seen such storms before, but never anything like this one — it seemed to swallow the whole sky and when that wasn't enough for its appetite, it reached down to paw at the land. Yet for all its fury, on the backside of the funnel, blue sky followed.

But what had the storm done with the Lees?

Inside the bathtub, the family tumbled and spun through air, until they were flung free. Faris, the 15 year old, landed in the driveway. Lee and her grandson were dragged across the ground, rasping their skin like sandpaper. Maggie grabbed hold of a stanchion from the carport, screaming, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!"

When the wind diminished, Lee climbed to his feet and surveyed the landscape. Most of his house had landed across the street. He climbed atop the rubble and saw the baby Brendanee partially buried in a hole of mangled wooden studs. He pulled her out and began running toward help through the rain and wind.

Up Interstate 20, Debra Patterson realized the storm was heading for the fire-damaged home she'd left behind. But an empty house was far from her only worry. A second daughter and her husband lived in the neighborhood, too.

And the storm was moving fast.

Interactive: 2011 tornado season (on this page)

In Pleasant Grove, hail continued to drum the Ford house. But the television was still the loudest sound until the angry snap of a tree breaking jolted Jonathan Ford to attention.

He called to his beagle and Labrador retriever, but they refused to join him in the shelter under the staircase (later, much later, he would find them alive). He dashed for cover so fast he dropped his cellphone, before hunkering down in the darkness with his hands wrapped around his head and his eyes closed. A powerful smell — as if a lumberjack had cut up scores of pine trees — filled the air.

Then the house began to rip apart.

Shards of sheet rock razored across Ford's face and wallboard and insulation filled his ears. The staircase collapsed on top of him and the pressure of the storm pushed down, relentless in its power. But trapped in the grotto, Ford says he felt a strangely comforting sensation, as if a hand was stroking his shoulders.

"My granddad died about two years ago in April ... and we were real close," he says. "It just felt like him and God were just rubbing my back, telling me it's going to be OK."

Forty-five seconds later, the funnel roared on in search of its next victim. But the Fords' two-story brick house and all those surrounding it had been obliterated. Trapped under the collapsed staircase, Jonathan Ford dug down through the sheet rock, until he was able to free himself. When at last he stood up and looked southwest, all he could see was a white light, and for a moment he wondered if he might be dead. But he hurt too much for that to be possible. And when he clambered to the top of his truck, and turned to the northeast, he watched as the funnel cloud about a third of a mile wide raked across the landscape.

Video: Recovery efforts going full-force

Then, as it receded and the roar began to fade, Ford stood atop his perch, cupped his hands and hollered with all the power he could muster to whoever might hear: "Is everybody OK? Can anyone else hear me?"

'Get in the closet'
And still the storm raged, carving a swath to the north and east, a path of destruction worse than anything this tornado-prone region has ever experienced.

At 6:30 p.m. in northeast Alabama, Sharon Tidmore picked up her smartphone to check the system's progress, but couldn't get a signal.

Her husband heard a high-pitched whining that sounded like tornado sirens. He reached for the door, peering outside to investigate.

Those weren't sirens.

There, directly across the road, a howling black pillar bore down on him. He slammed the door and bolted back in.

"Get in the closet!" he screamed to his family.

There was a horrible cracking as the garage peeled away from the house.

Then the bedroom wall blew out. Two-by-fours snapped like toothpicks.

"It was a terrible sound, like every sound put together," Wells said. "It was like all of hell was coming down on us."

The boys felt themselves being pulled away, sucked into the maelstrom.

"I tried to hold onto my mother and brother, but then it started dragging and I couldn't hold on to anything," Nick said.

The house — now just a stream of bodies and debris — was yanked from its foundation and lifted across the back yard, where it slammed into a stand of trees.

And then, in the next moment, it was over.

Image: Jonathan Ford at his tornado-devastated home in Pleasant Grove, Ala.
John Bazemore  /  AP
Tornado survivor Jonathan Ford saves what he can from his home Friday after it was destroyed by a powerful tornado in Pleasant Grove, Ala. Ford stayed under the staircase to save his dog.

The funnel churned into the forest, then "disappeared like it had never been there," Wells said.

He was the first to get up. The storm had dragged him on his back about 150 feet. His mother and stepbrother were about 10 feet away, dazed but unhurt.

Ronald Tidmore was unconscious when the others found him. Stirred from his stupor, "people were talking to me, but I couldn't hear them," he said.

His house was obliterated, but next door, the funnel had plucked a house from its foundation and set it down, perfectly intact, 200 feet away. He turned to look across the road. There a neighbor's home sat untouched.

Back in Tuscaloosa, Daniel Mulder cautiously opened the bathroom door to find the exterior walls of their apartment gone, the roof ripped away. He climbed out the kitchen window and picked his way through debris, before spotting a woman unconscious in the parking lot, her body covered in blood and bruises. He ran back upstairs for his wife, urging the nurse to hurry. "Someone's dying!"

Rachael grabbed a first-aid kit. The woman was breathing and had a pulse. But her torso had been ripped open, like something "out of a horror movie." She needed a trachea tube and suction, a bag to help her breathe. But Rachael could only hold her, helplessly. Moments later, the woman let out a gurgle and then fell silent. The Mulders covered the body with a tarp.

"Why her?" Rachael says. "Why wasn't it me?"

'Mom, everything's gone'
Back in Pleasant Grove, Jonathan Ford watched from atop the cab of his pickup as his neighbors slowly climbed from the rubble in the silent landscape.

Then, from where Curt and Crystal Grier's house had once stood, two doors down, a voice pleaded: "Please help! Please help! We've got babies stuck!"

The Griers and brother-in-law Josh Lowe had escaped from the crawl space under their collapsed porch. But the couple's two children, Curt's sister, Carrie Lowe, and her newborn baby, Tucker, remained trapped. All that was left of the house was the brick front steps. Slowly, the men extracted the screaming children from the rubble. But when Jonathan Ford went to help dig, and he reached for Carrie Lowe, hunched over her son's car seat, her body was cold to the touch. The baby was alive, in the seat.

Image: Marvin Quinn, Willie Quinn at their tornado-devastated home
Wade Payne  /  AP
Marvin Quinn, left, and his wife, Willie Quinn, sit in front of what's left of their home Friday after it was destroyed by a tornado in Apison, Tenn.

Later, after the rescue crews had come to take away her body, friends marked the spot with a red rag tied to a splintered piece of wood and placed a Bible found in the wreckage on the steps.

But now, Ford knew, he had to find his mother.

He set out on foot, walking through a surreal landscape of trees trunks stripped naked and snapped in half, cars tossed about like toys. Until an hour or two earlier, one of Pleasant Grove's most distinctive features had been its thick canopy of older hardwoods that provided rich shade, but limited views.

Now, Ford could see across the ridges for half a mile, easy. He quickened his pace, searching the road ahead for something or someone familiar. Police weren't letting cars through. But finally, at the intersection known as the Five-Way, Ford thought he recognized a truck. He saw a woman climb out, and his heart beat faster.

He leapt forward, willing his feet to move faster.

That's when Beverly Ford turned and recognized her son.

"I've never been so proud of my son as when he was running down the street, tears running down his face and his arms wide open," Beverly Ford says.

"Mom, Mom," he said, "everything's gone."

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

Video: Hundreds still missing in Alabama

  1. Closed captioning of: Hundreds still missing in Alabama

    >>> those tornadoes is just unimaginable. you've been there for days now. what can you tell us about the situation this morning?

    >>> the more time you spend here, jenna, you realize the defining patterns of these tornadoes. i'm standing on the edge of one and you see perhaps a parking garage or trees in the background about a quarter mile , a little more, that's the width. this particular tornado went across tuscaloosa . so there's so much damage like this and then you go a few blocks and everything is fine. they're starting to get power on onto many of the affected neighborhoods in tuscaloosa . the death toll went up one overnight, up to 342. here in alabama alone at least 250 people were killed. this morning officials are racing against time trying to find the hundreds who are still unaccounted for but they realize that window for finding survivors is closing very rapidly. nbc's john yang joins me now with the very latest. john, good morning.

    >> as you know you walk around this city, you walk around this state, there are so many different emotions, relief at having survived, grech at having lost a loved one. desperation about having a place to live right now this region this morning is struggling to pick up and move forward.

    >> reporter: in hardest hit alabama , volunteers scramble to deliver aid, distributing water, ice, and medical supplies to people left homeless after the record rash of devastating tornadoes. in tuscaloosa with nearly 40 dead at least 570 missing and more than 1,000 injured, a remarkable relief effort. people cleaned up what was left of their homes and crews repaired power lines .

    >> we still remain that shining city on the hill because the world has seen our faith in god and our faith in each other.

    >> reporter: those who lost all their belongings are amazed they didn't lose their lives.

    >> that's the place to be.

    >> reporter: what's for you and your wife? this is what's left of where two generations of the hicks family lived side-by-side. mike and his wife survived by taking cover in a closet. his son nolan and daughter-in-law tessa, newlyweds, by sitting in a bathtub.

    >> i looked one more time out the window. when i did, the trees just snapped.

    >> reporter: in neighborhoods like this across the region it's not just the residents digging out, it's neighbors helping neighbors, friends helping friends, families helping families. and even total strangers coming up, doing what they can to help. the certificate am for the missing are in a paper to search and rescue squads deploying in pleasant grove , alabama , hoping for the best.

    >> this is the last viable day.

    >> reporter: but fearing the worst. the psychologist specializing in disasters says the destruction will leave a mark even on those whose jobs are to help.

    >> i get very concerned about our first responders. they're well trained. they know what they're doing. but in a situation like this the impact of what's going on can be overwhelming.

    >> reporter: university of alabama where the tornadoes canceled the rest of the school year, parents picked up their children grateful that they're safe.

    >> we're just most thankful that he's okay. that's all we tear about. you can replace everything else.

    >> reporter: the obama administration is making recovery a top priority. fema is here in force and later today, lester, four cabinet secretaries will be on the ground here and in mississippi.

    >> john, you say over 500 missing in tuscaloosa alone. we're four days in now and i think we understand that people may have misconnected but at this point is there concern this death toll could rise?

    >> reporter: absolutely. the mayor does think it will rise. you have so many missing and searchers are going door-to-door or really rubble to rubble this weekend trying to make sure and see what they can find.

    >> and then we're seeing a lot of disaster relief trying to help people. i've noticed a lot of civilians that don't seem to be in any organized umbrella just doing the right thing. what have you seen?

    >> reporter: it's amazing. you go into neighborhoods and people are trying to pick through belongings or houses are destroyed and people are pushing carts along the street with water, with ice, with sandwiches, with cooked hot dogs wrapped in tinfoil. the phrase you most often hear is, what can can i do to help?

    >> it's pretty remarkable. john yang ,

Photos: Record flooding

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  1. City surveyor Tony Moon works on a makeshift levee on the edge of the flooding Mississippi River with the temporarily shuttered Isle of Capri riverboat casino behind him, Friday, May 20 in Natchez, Miss. The river was forecast to crest at 62.1 feet, the highest level in Natchez recorded history. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Haley English, 7, cries into the arms of her mother, Naomi English, as she looks toward her submerged house in Vicksburg, Miss., on May 20. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A precautionary sign warning of flooding is almost covered by Mississippi River floodwaters along the road to LeTourneau Technologies, in Vicksburg, Miss., on May 20. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Workers build a 16-foot makeshift levee to protect the 100-year-old JM Jones Lumber Company on the edge of the flooding Mississippi River on May 20 in Natchez, Miss. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A sand berm didn't help this home in Vicksburg, Miss., on May 19. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A corrections officer motors through floodwaters to pick up prisoners helping sandbag against the flooding in Vidalia, La., on May 19. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Floodwaters from the Yazoo River creep across crops near Yazoo City, Miss., on May 19. The Yazoo backed up because of Mississippi River flooding. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Guy and Diane Creekmore check out their flooded home on May 18 in Vicksburg, Miss. The Creekmores take daily trips out to see the damage to their home, which is currently filled with about 4 feet of floodwater. They also feed the possums and a raccoon that have been stranded on the roof of their home. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A member of the Army Corps of Engineers looks over sandbags along the rising Mississippi River in Natchez, Miss., on Wednesday, May 18. Cargo was slowly moving along the bloated Mississippi River after a costly daylong standstill. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Floodwaters from the Mississippi River closed Highway 61 north of Natchez, Miss., on May 17. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Louisiana Army National Guard Sgt. Michael Leehy inspects new makeshift levee modifications on May 17 in Morgan City. The Morganza Spillway floodgates were opened for the first time in nearly forty years and have succussfully lowered the crest of the flooding Mississippi River, but towns like Morgan City expect to get hit by some of the diverted water. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Tanya Acosta moves sandbags around her home on May 17 in Stephensville, La. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Farmers work as floodwaters from the Mississippi River creep across their fields in Natchez, Miss., on May 17. Heavy flooding from Mississippi tributaries has displaced more than 4,000 in the state, about half of them upstream from Natchez in the Vicksburg area. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Louisiana National Guard troops set up baskets to hold in sand above a levee in Krotz Springs on May 17. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. April Bordelon helps her brother Justin Reech move a load of belongings from his home in Big Bend, La., into a community known as Canadaville, in Simmesport, La., on May 16. The community was formerly used by Hurricane Katrina evacuees. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A street sign stands in the rising water of the Atchafalaya River in Simmesport, La., on May 16. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Brenda Hynum hugs her daughter Debra Emery as they watch floodwaters rise around Emery's mobile home in Vicksburg, Miss., on May 16. A sand berm around the trailer failed in the night and floodwaters from the rising Mississippi river rushed in. "We tried so hard to stop it. It goes from anger to utter disbelief that this could happen. I just want to go home," Emery said. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A woman in Stephensville, La., ties sandbags on May 15 as people throughout the region race to protect their homes from rising floodwaters due to the opening of the Morganza Spillway. (Sean Gardner / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Giant whirlpools the size of cars develop along the Atchafalaya River on May 15 due to the opening of the Morganza Spillway. Deputies warned people to get out as Mississippi River water gushing from floodgates for the first time in four decades crept ever closer to communities in Louisiana Cajun country. (P.C. Piazza / The Lafayette Daily Advertiser via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Brittany Pearce, left, wipes her eyes while taking a break with Leanna Gresco after a long day of throwing sandbags in front of Pearce's grandparents' house in Stephensville, La. on, May 15. (Sean Gardner / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. National Guardsman Spec. Lionel Lefleur stands guard on top of a levee checking vehicles trying to enter town, May 15, in Butte LaRose, La. The National Guard was trying to allow only residents trying to evacuate their homes into the town. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Brittany Ryder, 11, looks on as family members clear out their house during a mandatory evacuation, May 15, in Melville, La. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Houseboats are secured to a tree on the Atchafalaya River, May 15, in Henderson, La. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Mary Williams, right, looks on as family members pack the contents of her home, where she has lived since 1948, during a mandatory evacuation order, May 15, in Krotz Springs, La. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Arionne Ruffin, 7, pushes her cousin Josh Ruffin, 3, in a toy car while Alexis Rhodes, 8, plays in front of her family's home, May 15, in Bayou Black, La. The Rhodes, who have sandbagged around their home, purchased the house in February and are anxious about the impending flooding. (Julia Rendleman / The Houma Courier via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Water diverted from the Mississippi River spills through a bay in the Morganza Spillway in Morganza, La., May 14. Water from the inflated Mississippi River gushed through a floodgate Saturday for the first time in nearly four decades and headed toward thousands of homes and farmland in the Cajun countryside, threatening to slowly submerge the land under water up to 25 feet deep. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Inmates move sandbags for the construction of temporary levees in Butte LaRose, La., May 14. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Clothes are seen bagged in anticipation of floods in Butte LaRose, La., May 14. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Flood waters from the Mississippi River pour over a levee on the Yazoo River, a tributary to the Mississippi River, north of Vicksburg, Miss., May 13. Thousands of residents who live along or near the river from Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana have been forced to evacuate, and thousands of acres of prime farmland have been covered by the record-setting rising waters. (Chris Todd / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Flood waters of the Mississippi River threaten a large oil refinery complex in Baton Rouge, La., May 13. (Chris Todd / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. City workers transport sandbags past the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad Station on May 12, in Vicksburg, Miss. The historic station is near the Mississippi River but the rest of downtown is on a bluff above. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Residents of Vicksburg, Miss., take advantage of the raised railroad tracks north of the city to fish in the Mississippi River flood waters late Thursday, May 12. The fishermen along the tracks were treated to the sight of a 10-foot long alligator swimming in the waters. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Mobile homes sit in water as high as their rooftops near Watkins, Tenn., May 10. (Mike Brown / The Commercial Appeal via Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Workers look for minor imperfections to correct before pinning down high density polyethylene covering on the backside of the Yazoo Backwater Levee in Vicksburg on May 10. The cover will act as a barrier if overtopping occurs and will inhibit backside erosion of the levee. (Sean Gardner / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Friends and family help build a sandbag wall around a home in Stephensville, La., on May 11. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Frank Rankin stands in front of his flooded home in Vicksburg, Miss. on May 11. (Sean Gardner / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. The Mississippi River in Memphis, Tenn., as seen on April 21, 2010 in the satellite image on the left, and during it's crest on May 10, 2011, at right. The river reached 47.8 feet, just under the record of 48.7 feet set in 1937. Mud Island river park can be seen in the upper right corner. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Melvina Jones carries a mirror through floodwaters as the swelling Mississippi River begins to surround her sister's home in Vicksburg, Miss. on Tuesday, May 10. (Sean Gardner / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. This industrial facility was flooded by the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tenn., on May 10. The river earlier that day crested in Memphis just short of its 1937 record. (Dan Anderson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Chaperone Dave Weber and West Delaware High School Seniors Scott Egemo and Drew Funke lift flood debris below the damaged Lake Delhi dam near Delhi, Iowa, on May 4. (Becky Malewitz / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Byron Sitz looks at Mississippi River floodwater covering the intersection of Riverside Drive and Beale Street in Memphis on May 10. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Water swamps a casino flooded by the Mississippi River in Tunica, Miss., on May 10. (Dan Anderson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Jermaine Jarrett surveys a flooded street in his neighborhood in Memphis, Tenn., on May 9. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Floodwaters rise at the end of Beale Street in Memphis, May 9. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Floodwater is seen inside Peaches Bar on May 9 in Memphis. (Jeff Roberson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. A towboat pushes barges down the flood-swollen Mississippi River south of Memphis, May 9. (Danny Johnston / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Water covers a gravestone, May 9, in Luxora Ark. The town sits along the Mississippi River where the water level is currently higher than the level of the town causing the ground to be saturated and leaving nowhere for the water in the town to drain. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. (Left) Workers use a crane to remove some of the Bonnet Carre Spillway's barriers in Norco, La. on May 9 in anticipation of rising floodwater. The spillway, which the Corps built about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans in response to the great flood of 1927, was last opened during the spring 2008. Monday marked the 10th time it has been opened since the structure was completed in 1931. The spillway diverts water from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain.

    (Right) The Bonnet Spillway as seen from the air. (Gerald Herbert and Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. A cell block is seen alongside an inner levee along the Mississippi River at Angola State Prison in West Feliciana Parish, La. on May 9. A convoy of buses and vans transferred inmates with medical problems from Angola, which is bordered on three sides by the Mississippi River. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. A man takes a picture of a flooded mobile home park as floodwaters slowly rise in Memphis, Tenn., May 8. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Linda Casals leans over the Interstate 55 bridge crossing the Mississippi River to get a better look at flooding Sunday, May 8, in Memphis, Tenn. (Jeff Roberson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. Kimberly Nailor pauses to wipe her forehead while using sandbags to protect a home as floodwaters slowly rise in Memphis, Tenn., May 8. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. Residents paddle a boat past houses being swallowed up by floodwater on Saturday, May 7, in Memphis, Tenn. Heavy rains have left the ground saturated, rivers swollen, and have caused widespread flooding in Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Volunteers fill sandbags to help in the fight against rising floodwater on May 7 in Memphis. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Jonathan White and Leandra Felton wade through slowly rising floodwaters with items from their home May 7 in Memphis, Tenn. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. Reggie Smith wears a sandbag on his head in an effort to keep dry in a steady rain as he works to fill sandbags outside the RiverTown condominiums on May 7 on Mud Island in Memphis, Tenn. (Jeff Roberson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. Jerry Brooks wades through his yard on May 6 in Bogota, Tenn. Heavy rains have left the ground saturated, rivers swollen, and have caused widespread flooding in Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. John Wade and Jose Peralta use a boat to haul sandbags to build a levee around Wade's home on May 5 in Metropolis, Ill. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Farmland is flooded by the White River near Des Arc, Ark., on May 5. (Danny Johnston / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. James Dunn gives his grandson Caleb Walker a paddle boat ride down the middle of a flooded street near his home on May 5 in Metropolis. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. Mississippi wildlife agent Hugh Johnson walks past a dead whitetail buck in Greenville, Miss., on May 5. Johnson said herds of deer, coyotes, some wild hogs and other wildlife are swimming to Greenville because of flooding on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River. This deer broke its neck when it tried to run through a chain fence. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. James Strayhorn carries groceries through a flooded neighborhood back to his home in Tiptonville, Tenn. on May 4. Heavy rains have left the ground saturated and have caused widespread flooding in Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. Robert Hart, left, helps Oma Gardner remove furniture from her flooded home on May 4 in Tiptonville, Tenn. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  64. Sally Nance walks through floodwater as she helps her neighbors remove clothes from their home on May 4 in Tiptonville, Tenn. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. Rita Gieselman leads the way as Phil Vanover follows after checking on his home in the 100 block of Chestnut Street in Rumsey, Ky. on May 4. (John Dunham / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  66. Debbie Ricketts, left, and her Point Township, Ind., neighbors, Bill, center, and Hank Cox basked in the sun on their old grain bin cement foundation that they dubbed "Gilligan's Island," on the afternoon of May 4. (Denny Simmons / The Evansville Courier & Press via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  67. Volunteers fill sandbags at the Pyramid Arena to prepare for rising floodwaters from the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tenn. on May 4. The National Weather Service is predicting a 48-foot crest of the Mississippi River on May 11. (Lance Murphey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  68. Homes on Mud Island that are usually high above the water level are met by the rising waters of the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tenn. on May 4. (Lance Murphey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  69. David Lucas, left, and Lauren Lucas, right, comfort Carla Jenkins, owner of Vidalia Dock and Storage Co., after deciding to evacuate her business in Vidalia, La. on May 3 due to the threat of the predicted Mississippi River flood. (Eric J. Shelton / The Natchez Democrat via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  70. Floodwater engulfs a home near Wyatt, Mo., on May 3, after the Army Corps of Engineers blew a massive hole in a levee at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to divert water from the town of Cairo, Illinois. The diversion flooded about 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland and 100 homes. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  71. Roy Presson embraces his daughters Catherine and Amanda as they stand on the edge of State Highway HH looking out at their family farm in Wyatt, Mo., on Tuesday. The Presson home and 2,400 acres of land that they farmed was flooded by an engineered levee break. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  72. Floodwater surrounds homes in Morehouse, Mo., on Tuesday. Heavy rains have left the ground saturated, rivers swollen, and has caused widespread flooding in Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  73. Tractors pump floodwaters over a levee in Tiptonville, Tenn., on Tuesday in a bid to divert some water. (Erik Schelzig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  74. Daniel Davis stands in his kitchen in Livermore, Ky., on Tuesday after the Green River sent floodwater rushing in. (John Dunham / Messenger-Inquirer via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  75. Floodwater from the Mississippi River is seen north of New Madrid, Mo., on Tuesday. (Jeff Roberson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  76. An explosion lights up the night sky as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blows an 11,000-foot hole in the Birds Point levee in Mississippi County, Mo. on Monday. The breach lowered the flood levels at Cairo, Illinois, and other communities. (David Carson / St. Louis Post-Dispatch via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  77. James Bindon waits for more loads of sand to be delivered to the riverfront in Vidalia, La., on May 9. Crews planned to use the sand to fill temporary levees in preparation for the predicted Mississippi River flood. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  78. Volunteers hastily build a wall of sandbags along Illinois 3 on May 8 in the community of Olive Branch. (Alan Rogers / The Southern Illinoisan via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  79. Anna Mayhood leaped to safety from her vehicle after the Broad Street Bridge collapsed beneath it on April 27 in Moriah, N.Y. Authorities said flooding closed nearly 60 roads across the Adirondacks, most of them in Essex County, scene of some of the worst damage. (Lohr Mckinstry / The Press Republican via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  80. Kenny Back pulls a boat with his sister Jessica Capp and wife Theresa Back to collect belongings from their parents' flooded home on April 27 in Old Shawneetown, Illinois. (Stephen Rickerl / The Southern via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  81. Volunteers place sandbags atop a temporary levee to fight back floodwaters as lightning from a thunderstorm is seen in the background on April 26, in Dutchtown, Mo. (Jeff Roberson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  82. Four houses are surrounded by floodwaters from the Current River just outside Doniphan, Mo., on April 26. The area received several inches of rain in previous days. (Paul Davis / Daily American Republic via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  83. A rail service vehicle and a pickup sit stranded in floodwaters from the Black River south of Poplar Bluff, Mo., on April 25. (Paul Davis / Daily American Republic via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  84. Residents of Oak Glen Residential Community are assisted by rescue personnel as rising waters from a nearby creek forced them to evacuate their homes in Johnson, Ark., on April 25. (Beth Hall / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  85. Volunteers stack sandbags in Metropolis, Ill., on April 25 to curb Ohio River flooding. (Alan Rogers / The Southern Illinoisan via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  86. A truck stalls in high waters in Paris, Texas, on April 25. (Sam Craft / The Paris News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  87. Leon Gentry looks out over floodwaters that surround his garage after he spent the morning working to secure what he could from the rising water in Henderson, Ky., on April 25. (Mike Lawrence / The Gleaner via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  88. Kim Mada loads equipment into a truck to avoid rising water at Falcon Floats in Tahlequah, Okla., on April 25. (Matt Barnard / Tulsa World via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  89. Butler County, Mo., Sheriff Mark Dobbs stands on a levee along the Black River, right, on April 25, where floodwaters were running over into adjacent farmland southeast of Poplar Bluff. The levee broke in this location during a 2008 flood. (Paul Davis / Daily American Republic via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  90. Kasey Medley, right, stands on the front porch of her flooded home with her friend Erica Cass in Poplar Bluff, Mo., on April 26. (Jeff Roberson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Rising Rivers And Tributaries Continue To Flood Southern Communities
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    Above: Slideshow (90) Severe storms rip across U.S. - Record flooding
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    Slideshow (89) Severe storms rip across U.S. - Tornadoes

Interactive: 2011 tornado season

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