Image: Prom dress photo
Billy Weeks  /  AP
Dade County High School student Delana Blevins, center, is joined by her stepmother, Angela Blevins, left, and her dad, Danny Blevins, as Clint Mitchell takes a photograph Saturday before the prom, in Dade County, Ga.
By
updated 5/17/2011 1:49:14 PM ET 2011-05-17T17:49:14

The "Cinderella dress" Delana Blevins had so looked forward to wearing to prom just needed a few alterations when the tornadoes ripped through northwest Georgia late last month, blowing it away along with the rest of the tailoring shop. All she found in the rubble was a scrap of beading from the bodice.

"I was bawling my eyes out," she said. "I didn't know what to do."

The two twisters that hit April 27 razed nearly 140 homes and killed two people in this community. The prom was nearly canceled. But on Saturday night, Blevins and her good friend Marcella Lackey — whose dress met a similar fate — donned gowns donated by strangers for the teenage rite of passage. It restored some semblance of normalcy for them and more than 325 other Dade County High School students. Neither of the girls was hurt, and their homes weren't damaged. Others weren't so lucky.

"It's been a release for our kids," said Patty Priest, the schools superintendent in sprawling, rural Dade County. "It's been something they could look forward to, something to get their minds off the disaster."

With their community hobbled by destruction, the prom had to be pushed back two weeks from April 30. The students got their prom, though — thanks to the free dresses from a group called Rescue Prom, and free hairdos and makeup from shops in Chattanooga, just across the state line in Tennessee. Similar efforts were common across the southeast, which was ravaged by dozens of tornadoes that killed more than 300 people across seven states in a two-day span.

Jan Greene, a special education teacher and prom sponsor, said it was an apt reward for the teens.

"After the storm and after so many lives had been affected, I was so impressed with our students," she said. "Everywhere you looked, there was a high school student out there helping."

When the tornadoes hit, Lackey had ignored the tornado watch because they had been issued so often, yet twisters never hit. She was at a friend's house, where they huddled in the laundry room. Blevins hunkered in a hallway with her mother and two dogs, crying and praying.

"I was like, 'Oh God, this is my last moment because I thought I was going to die," Lackey said, remembering the experience with a shudder.

"Me too," Blevins said. "I'm not gonna lie. I thought it was the end."

Lackey, a self-described tomboy who'd rather be out splashing ATVs through the mud or spending time at the shooting range than getting her hair done and putting on a dress, said she hadn't really been looking forward to prom. After the storms, she treasured the carefree fun.

"I'm really excited, I actually wanted to go now," she said.

Prom also had more meaning for Blevins, who wound up with a dress she loved just as much as the one that blew away thanks to Rescue Prom, a dress drive started by local volunteers.

"My oldest daughter said, 'Mom, we've got dresses. What about their prom?' That's how it started," said Kim Massengale Goins, one of the effort's organizers.

She teamed up with Crystal Cadieux, a fellow volunteer at the American Legion, and set up a "Rescue Prom" Facebook page online around 1 a.m. May 2. In a matter of days, the volunteers received more than a thousand dresses from people all over the country.

Blevins was initially hesitant to take advantage of the free dresses.

Story: After tornadoes, junk donations become challenge

"I was thinking, like every other Southerner does, 'Somebody probably needs it worse than I do,'" she said.

"You sit here and you go, 'I don't have a dress for prom,' and then these people step in, people that don't even know you, people that you wouldn't even meet in a thousand years and they come in and they're like, 'We're going to help you for prom,'" she said, her eyes filling with tears and her voice catching. "That means a lot to people in Dade County because people don't have much here."

Lackey, whose lost dress had been black, agonized over her choice, falling in love with a slinky, lime-green satin dress but eventually choosing a sleek, elegant pink halter dress that skimmed her slender frame and brushed the floor. Blevins also chose pink, a long gown sprinkled with sequins and silver stitching and featuring thin straps, a full skirt that billowed to the floor and a complicated lace-up back.

Story: South asks: Where will twister victims live?

At the prom, students poured into a ballroom in the Chattanooga Trade & Convention Center, where a DJ flanked by two giant video screens played hip-hop, pop and slow songs. Candles flickered on the tables around the dance floor as images of city buildings were projected on the walls.

Blevins and Lackey danced and laughed with their dates and a group of friends, showing no signs of the trauma they had endured. And that's exactly how it should be, said Trenton city Mayor Barton Harris, whose high school senior daughter was at the prom.

"It's so important to still hold events like this, even when it's tough," he said. "People need normalcy."

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

Photos: Tornadoes

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  1. The remains of this home in Pleasant Grove, Ala., provide a sign on May 5 that the owners survived the twisters. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A group of Auburn students assist in the clean up of debris on May 5 in Pleasant Grove. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. This is one of hundreds of pets waiting to find their owners at the Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter in Tuscaloosa, Ala., May 5. A constant flow of people searching for their lost animals following last week's tornado visit the shelter each day. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Nenia Cagle consoles Annie Muse, who cries after finding the purse of her daughter in the rubble on May 4 in Argo, Ala. Muse's sister died in the twister there, while her daughter and a grandson were hospitalized. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Tracy Sargent, of K9 Search and Rescue Specialists Inc., works with her cadaver dog 'Chance' during a search for survivors in Tuscaloosa May 4. Authorities have said they expect the search will continue for at least another week. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Terry Armstrong, left, and Ricky King, of Douglas Cooling and Heating, salvage air conditioning units out of apartments in Pratt City, Ala., on May 4. Damage from Alabama's deadly tornadoes could approach the state's record of $2 billion from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Alabama's insurance commissioner said. (Michelle Campbell / The Birmingham News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. LaRocca Nursing Home Director Lyman Hardy walks through one of the blown out rooms that housed elderly patients in Tuscaloosa, Ala., May 4. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Lineman Derrick Heisz of Broadhead, Wis., checks power poles in Pratt City, Ala., Tuesday, May 3. Utility companies are scrambling to restore services to the hard hit area before more heavy rains arrive. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Residents of Camden Court near McCulley Mill Road in Limestone County, east of Athens, Ala., leave humorous messages painted on the remains of their homes, May 3. (Gary Cosby Jr. / The Decatur Daily via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. In this aerial view taken Monday, May 2, from the window of a NOAA flight, the path of a Wednesday's tornado can be seen as it made its way through a small town near Birmingham, Ala. (Bob Farley / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. John VanTiem, a chaplain with Hope Force, prays with Josephine Neal, whose brother's house was destroyed by the tornado in the Carter's Gin community, May 2, in Huntsville, Ala. (Eric Schultz / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Residents who are staying at the Belk Center, after a tornado left them homeless, get a haircut on May 2, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Volunteers Glenda Mixon, of Hueytown, Ala., and Esther Flesh, of North Shelby County, Ala., sort donated canned goods for tornado victims at the Church of the Highlands tornado relief center, May 2, 2011, in Hueytown. The center is serving as donation hub for Pleasant Grove and Concord tornado victims. (Tamika Moore / The Birmingham News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Sgt. Llanos of the U.S. Army helps fold the flag from the coffin of Donnie L. Gentry during a funeral at Pinkard Funeral Home in Russellville, Ala. Monday May, 2011. Gentry and his wife, Patricia, a second grade teacher at Phil Campbell School, were both killed in their home during the Wednesday, April 27th severe weather outbreak. (AP Photo/TimesDaily, Jim Hannon) (Jim Hannon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Volunteer Tyrone Duncan secures a blue tarp to a damaged house on May 2 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Alabama, the hardest-hit of six states, is reported to have been battered with at least an EF-4 rated tornado with the death toll across the South rising to over 300 as a result of the storms. (Tom Pennington / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. People rest in the sleeping area of a Red Cross Shelter on Monday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Red Cross Shelter is housing more than 260 area residents. (Tom Pennington / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Utility workers replace a destroyed utility pole on May 2 in Holt, Ala. (Tom Pennington / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Chance, a cadaver dog, searches for a body on May 2 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Tom Pennington / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Kevin Mann, a gas company worker, tries to locate a gas line in the Smithfield community of Birmingham, Ala., on Monday May 2. Crews have been out across the state closing gas lines so that others can come in and remove storm debris. (Bob Farley / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Birmingham Mayor William Bell, 2nd from left, walks through the streets of the Pratt City suburb with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Sunday. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Students prepare to head home after the University of Alabama canceled classes for the rest of the semester. While the campus in Tuscaloosa avoided a direct hit, the storm put a painful damper on the school year. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A flag flies amid debris in the devastated town of Hueytown, Ala., on Sunday. Grieving storm survivors turned to prayer and the good grace of volunteers across the South as shattered communities looked to rebuild after the second-worst tornado disaster on record. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Teressa Lambert, second from left, comforts her daughter Rachael Gaudio during a Sunday service at the site of the Church of God in Phil Campbell, Ala. (Lee Celano / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Worshippers sign a makeshift crucifix folowing a Sunday service at the site of the Church of God in Phil Campbell. (Lee Celano / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A volunteer salvages sports equipment from Alberta Elementary School in the Alberta City neighborhood of Tuscaloosa, Ala., May 1. (Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Ruth Cole becomes emotional while digging through her destroyed business on May 1, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Cole had no insurance on her business or her home, which was also destroyed in the storm. Alabama, the hardest-hit of six states, is reported to have been battered with at least an EF-4 rated tornado with the death toll across the South rising to over 300 as a result of the storms. (Tom Pennington / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. In an April 30 photo, relatives of Kathy Gray Haney gather near the grave after her burial in Pisgah, Ala., with tornado-damaged trees in the background. The neighborhood where the Gray family lived was hit by two tornadoes within a 10-hour period, killing Gray Haney and two other relatives. (Chris Hawley / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Family and friends help roll a car upright at Ron Nichols' home, Saturday, April 30, in Hackleburg, Ala., following the massive tornado that leveled portions of the town Wednesday. (Matt Mckean / Times Daily via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Nine-year-old Eric Chaney collects toys, April 30, for a family friend who survived but was left orphaned, after his home was destroyed by a tornado, in Phil Campbell, Ala. (Tami Chappell / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Workers work on the roof of a damaged historic building with a mural in Cullman, Ala., April 30. (Tami Chappell / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Ernst Storey, right, and volunteer Kim Whitten, left, pray after Storey registered for disaster assistance for his mother at a an elementary school in the tornado ravaged neighborhood of Pratt City in Birmingham, Ala., on April 30. (Justin Lane / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Tracy Hannah paints a warning on the door of her destroyed home on April 30, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Tom Pennington / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. A man, seen through a broken window, walks his dog through the tornado ravaged Fan Road neighborhood of Pleasant Grove, Ala., on April 30. (Justin Lane / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Daniel Mulder hugs his wife Rachael near their destroyed home in Tuscaloosa, Ala., April 30. Mulder and his wife survived the Wednesday tornado hiding in a tub before coming to the assistance of their neighbors. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Workers repair electrical cables April 30, in Tuscalosa, Ala. Residents are reeling from the worst US tornadoes in nearly 80 years. (Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Michael Glasgow, 37, shows the injuries he sustained from the tornado on Wednesday that took the lives of his three-month-old son Chase Zion Glasgow and his 42-year-old sister Tammi Glasgow at what is left of his home Saturday, April 29, in Cleveland, Tenn. (Wade Payne / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. People move a wall in an effort to see if anyone had been buried by rubble in the Alberta neighborhood of Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Friday, April 29. (Justin Lane / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Tracy Hannah reacts after returning to her house for the first time since a tornado swept through the Alberta community near Tuscaloosa, Alabama on Friday. (Marvin Gentry / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. This home in Athens, Ala., was among the hundreds destroyed. (Gary Cosby Jr. / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Michael Hodges looks for salvageable items in the rubble of a law office in the Albert neighborhood of Tuscaloosa on Friday. (Justin Lane / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. President Barack Obama tours a destroyed neighborhood in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Friday. "I've never seen devastation like this," he said. (Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Alyssa Mosley, 14, checks the piano at the Alberta Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa on Friday. (Justin Lane / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Modell Harkins salvages belongings in Tuscaloosa on Friday. (Lee Celano / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A police officer looks in the back of a destroyed car in Tuscaloosa on Friday. (Justin Lane / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Jacqueline Wilson looks through what is left of her mother's home in Tuscaloosa on Friday. (Dan Anderson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Brothers Darrell and Shane Gilland work on their parents' home in Bethel, Va., on Friday. Their parents survived a twister that hit early Thursday. (Jeff Gentner / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Eleanor Stubbs is rescued on Thursday after her home was ravaged by a tornado in Concord, Ala. (Wynter Byrd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Desiree Jemison cries after seeing the belongings of her hospitalized relatives in Pleasant Grove, Ala., on Thursday. (Christine Prichard / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. A man finds a photo album a block away from his home in Concord, Ala.,Thursday, where a tornado ripped through the area. (Wynter Byrd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. Jennifer Rupley on Thursday shows the injuries she received in a vehicle in Phil Campbell, Ala. as a tornado completely demolished her home. (Jim Hannon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Tractor trailers at Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co in Glade Spring, Va. were damaged during a tornado. An official estimate of the damage which spread from southwestern to northeastern Virginia,was not available Thursday, but Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency. (Eric Brady / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. Damaged trees are seen through a window blown out by tornados in Pleasant Grove, Ala. on Thursday. (Christine Prichard / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. Deacon Billy Walker, of Elizabeth Baptist Church, Tamarlon Madison and Kelly Bonner of Friendship Baptist Church, cook food and hand out bottled water for those affected by Wednesday's tornado on Thursday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Michelle Lepianka Carter / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Residents in the Alberta City neighborhood of Tuscaloosa, Ala., walk out with their belongings on Thursday, April 28, after a tornado tore through Wednesday evening. (David Bundy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. This area of Tuscaloosa, known as the Rosedale Court housing community, was flattened. (Dusty Compton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. James Patterson tries to salvage items from his kitchen Thursday in Phil Campbell, Ala. His home was lifted and moved about 15 feet. No one was injured. (Bob Farley / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. People search for belongings Thursday in Tuscaloosa. (Amanda Sowards / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. Glenda Dillshaw removes debris from a bed that still has sheets on it in Pleasant Grove, a hard-hit suburb just west of Birmingham, Ala. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Lisa Kirby and Belinda Jones help an injured Golden Retriever whose owner was killed in Pleasant Grove. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. Children play as their parents, Kathy and Nickie Hughes, shift through what is left of their home in Phil Campbell, Ala. (Bob Farley / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. Residents begin cleaning up on Thursday after a twister decimated Pratt City, Ala. (Christine Prichard / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. The shell of a home is all that remains after being hit by the tornado in Pratt City. (Str / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. Residents survey storm damage in Pratt City, Ala., on April 28. Severe weather and more than 100 tornadoes destroyed towns and killed hundreds. (Christine Prichard / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  64. Residents survey the remains of homes amid splintered trees and scattered belongings in Pratt City, Ala., on April 28. (Marvin Gentry / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. Tiffany Wood carries clothes from her home on April 28, after a tornado hit Pleasant Grove just west of downtown Birmingham, Ala., Wednesday afternoon. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  66. A police officer walks through a destroyed neighborhood after a tornado swept through Ringgold, Ga., on April 28. (Erik S Lesser / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  67. John Boxmeyer climbs through the rubble of a home where he was helping friends recover belongings on April 28, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The storm demolished a neighborhood near the University of Alabama campus. (Jay Reeves / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  68. Residents search through what is left of their homes on April 28, after a tornado hit Pleasant Grove just west of downtown Birmingham a day earlier. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  69. A deadly tornado has flattened Pleasant Grove, Ala., a subdivision of Mountain Grove, on April 28. (Greg Bluestein / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  70. A tornado moves through Tuscaloosa, Ala., on April 27. A wave of storms hit the South on Wednesday, splintering buildings across swaths of an Alabama university town. (Dusty Compton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  71. Residents survey the destruction after a tornado hit Pratt City, Ala. just north of downtown Birmingham, Ala., on April 27. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  72. Homes and businesses along McFarland Blvd. are completely destroyed in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on April 27. (Dusty Compton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  73. Trees are sheared off as debris scatters Alabama 13 after a tornado struck on April 27 in Phil Campbell, Ala. (Daniel Giles / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  74. Residents attempt to retrieve their belongings after a tornado destroyed their apartments on April 27 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Caroline Summers / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  75. Residents survey the destruction after a tornado hit Pratt City, Ala. just north of downtown Birmingham, Ala., on April 27. The widespread destruction caused Gov. Robert Bentley to declare a state of emergency by midday, saying tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, hail, and straight-line winds caused damage to "numerous homes and businesses" in Alabama. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  76. A tornado leaves a path of devastation after as it hits Pratt City just north of downtown Birmingham on April 27 in Birmingham, Ala. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  77. A funnel cloud is seen from Taylorsville, Ala., as it approaches Tuscaloosa, where reported widespread damage occurred during the storm on April 27. (Don Kausler, Jr. / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  78. People walk through downtown Cullman, Ala., after a tornado hit on April 27. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  79. Sandra Smith, left, is hugged by a neighbor in Moody, Ala., on April 27 after a tree fell into her mobile home bedroom and missed crushing her by just a few inches. Smith was asleep when the tree fell and was not injured. (Bernard Troncale / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  80. Buildings lie in ruins after a tornado hit downtown Culman, Ala., on April 27. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  81. Kenny Chastain carries feed for horses from what is left of a barn near Arab, Ala., after a storm early April 27. (Robin Conn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  82. Ken Sanders, son-in-law of Jay and Carla Arendal, takes a rest while helping to look for items to keep after a tornado destroyed the Arendal's home April 26, in Vilonia, Ark. The couple was in the home and both survived. (Mark Humphrey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  83. Michael Lyons, of Bowling Green, Ky., a construction worker with Insight, examines a car April 26, that was crushed by a tree on College St. as a result of storms. (Alex Slitz / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  84. A Ben Wheeler firefighter, left, covers the survivor of a twister that completely destroyed her mobile home east of Ben Wheeler, Texas on April 26. She was shaken and had some minor bruises but otherwise escaped without serious injuries. A line of dangerous storms hit East Texas spawning a number of tornados in the area. (Jaime R. Carrero / The Tyler Morning Telegraph via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  85. Beth Freyaldenhoven and Kristen Talley, look over the property belonging to David and Katherine Talley, their aunt and uncle, on April 26 after a tornado hit Vilonia, Ark. Both David and Katherine Talley had taken shelter in a metal utility building on their property, but they died when the building was blown across a pond. (Mark Humphrey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  86. Paducah Power System workers assess damage to power lines in Murray, Ky., on April 26. Storms have unleashed more than a foot of rain across the region, and the forecast offered little hope for relief. Another larger storm system was brewing along the same path, bringing several more days of rain and the possibility of tornadoes. (John Wright / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  87. Richard Bass walks through his damaged home in Vilonia, Ark., on Tuesday. Four people were killed and the town was heavily damaged by a tornado on Monday night. (Mark Humphrey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  88. Jamie Long-Sioux works near her home on Tuesday, April 26, in Garland County near Hot Springs, Ark. The trailer home was heavily damaged when a tornado hit the area Monday. Long-Sioux said she and four children took refuge in a nearby church before the storm hit. (Richard Rasmussen / The Sentinel-Record via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  89. People walk on a road in Vilonia, Ark., on April 26, after a tornado hit the area late Monday. The storm system killed at least seven people, including three who drowned in floods in northwest Arkansas. (Danny Johnston / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
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    Above: Slideshow (89) Severe storms rip across U.S. - Tornadoes
  2. Image: Rising Rivers And Tributaries Continue To Flood Southern Communities
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    Slideshow (90) Severe storms rip across U.S. - Record flooding

Video: Tornado terror, as seen from space

  1. Transcript of: Tornado terror, as seen from space

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: You're looking right now at how one of the worst months for tornadoes ever in this country looked from space. A NOAA satellite captured images of the storm systems that swept across the South during April. We've sped it up here and put it on a continuous loop. Six hundred twenty-five tornadoes have been confirmed; each one represented on this map, when you look hard at it, as a red dot. Of course, the worst of it was April 27th , 28th. More than 300 people were killed in over 180 separate twisters from Texas to Virginia . It's a mesmerizing look to take a nice long look at. You can see the whole thing on our Web site tonight, nightly.msnbc.com.

Interactive: 2011 tornado season

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