Nightly News | February 29, 2012
>>> good evening. it was a worst-case scenario. tornados among the largest nature can produce anywhere, ripping across the countryside late at night . after people had gone to bed. of course, can't always hear a warning. more than that, they hit during what's supposed to be the dead of winter, in late february, when there is supposed to be snow on the ground, not funnels in the western sky. some storms were moving at 60 miles per hour. too fast to outrun and the people and places in their path were no match. the same weather system is on the move again tonight after spawning tornados sightings in nine states. confirmed winds of 170 miles per hour. one of the storms carving a 22-mile-long path through branson, missouri. the hardest hit community is harrisburg, illinois. tonight lester holt is heading up our team there. lester, good evening.
>> reporter: brian, good evening. there were 17 sighted tornados as storms leaped across the midwest. nine people are dead, more than 100 injured. the storms began at night. for those who survived, they are very much trying to take all this in tonight. john yang is in harveyville , kansas , to start us off.
>> reporter: in the hours before dawn , a violent ef-4 tornado shattered this community, a former coal mining town with winds reaching 170 miles an hour.
>> we were running through the hallways. it hit us. didn't have time to think about it.
>> reporter: the twister flattened everything in its path, stretching for miles, homes and businesses torn apart, crushing trucks, uprooting trees. residents combed through the wreckage looking for anything worth saving and checked on neighbors.
>> hearts broken, knowing we lost children, we lost loved ones. we lost part of our family here in this community.
>> reporter: in harveyville , kansas , population less than 300, this stormchaser video shows a tornado barrelling through at about 9:00 last night with lightening and swirling debris around the twister. winds up to 135 miles per hour.
>> all of a sudden, the windows went out. just like a big shotgun went off.
>> reporter: as the sun came up this morning, shocked residents could finally see the extent of the damage. close to half the small town structures, homes and businesses gone. rescue workers spent the day looking for the lost and injured, often going door to door . the governor declared a state of emergency . the red cross is assisting those with no place to go. folks in kansas are used to tornados.
>> a lot of the people we are talking to do have basements. the problem is there was no time to get to them.
>> reporter: another tornado touched down in branson, missouri, popular with country music fans. dozens injured there. today, bulldozers worked to clean up debris scattered by the tornado that tore through the heart of the city . destroying businesses. country musician denny strickland stopped in town with his tour bus when the tornado hit.
>> we heard all the rocks hitting the side first. then i heard this loud roar. before i knew it, i was upside down.
>> reporter: now he's going to have to find another way home.
>> you always see these things on tv or happen to somebody else. this time it happened to us.
>> reporter: there was never even a tornado warning issued for this area, but despite this sudden destruction, no one here in harveyville was killed. brian?
>> john yang in kansas . another of the nine states hit