Nightly News   |  April 29, 2014

Tornado Survivors Recount Storm’s Terrifying Moments

The death toll across the region is now at least 34 as violent weather demolished homes, producing winds of up to 200 miles per hour.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> joe, thanks. elsewhere in this country tonight we turn now to what's shaping up as a third straight night of violent weather across parts of the south. death toll across the region now stands at least 34. before and after photos of one neighborhood in vilonia, arkansas just begin to show what this weather is capable of. this is the same stormfront that's proving to be relentless, churning up severe weather , firing up violent embedded thunderstorms and spawning tornadoes as it goes. national weather service has confirmed these tornadoes have produced winds of 200 miles per hour. again tonight our teams are out across the region. we begin our reporting with nbc's lester holt in tupelo, mississippi . lester, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. you look around here, you walk the brick and glass littered streets of tupelo and amazed no one here died from the tornado. take a look across the street. you can look at the buildings on either side for about a half mile or so, either destroyed or badly damaged that includes homes. with the threat of more bad weather across the south tonight you can understand why people are in shock and on edge.

>> it's moving to the right.

>> reporter: on monday there were 67 reports of tornadoes touching down in five states. 46 reports in mississippi alone. where survivors recounted the terrifying minutes.

>> pressure dropped. ears hurt. hear the train coming like everybody says you they are train coming.

>> reporter: the twister that ripped through tupelo destroyed an entire business district and sent trees crashing in to nearby homes. amy justice and her neighbors scurried into a backyard shelter just in time.

>> everything started to shake and you can hear the disaster going on around outside.

>> reporter: this afternoon in some ravaged towns workers raced to secure and protect damaged roofs fearing another round of storms is on its way. while in battered neighborhoods across the south survivors pondered how quickly and violently life as they know it has changed.

>> on sunday morning when we were worshipping here we never thought this would be our last sunday.

>> reporter: this 21-year-old was far from the danger in his home town of tupelo, mississippi but could not escape a tornado in alabama. the university of alabama student and swim team member died as he tried to take shelter in the basement of a home. since sunday at least 34 people have died as a result of the violent storms . including this 9-year-old and 7-year-old. their parents moved to vilonia, arkansas this past fall so their sons could attend school there. both daniel and april were seriously injured when a tornado levelled their home leaving virtually nothing behind. today april learned both of her sons were killed when the four of them tried to take cover inside.

>> they lit up the room wherever and however they were. you knew they were there. and they are just great kids.

>> reporter: also among the dead, 31-year-old daniel wassum the arkansas national guard airman, an iraq veteran died in his home as he shielded his two young daughters from falling debris. his wife and the girls survived.

>> a great dad he was. he really loved those girls. loved his wife. what a great son he was, you know. couldn't ask for a better son.

>> reporter: today his father searched the wreckage for any keepsakes he could find.

>> he was a good boy, guys. i wish you knew him.

>> reporter: back here in tupelo, some apprehension, about an hour ago the sky got dark, skies opened up but fortunately it remains quiet at least here.

>> this is tough going, lester these personal tragedies all across this region of the southwest. thanks. as we said the threat from the weather is far from over as this system now continues to slide to the east. 70 million americans they tell us are at high-risk right now. meteorologist dillon dryer is in pearl, mississippi .

>> reporter: we're under a tornado watch in pearl, mississippi an area that was hit hard by a tornado just yesterday. most of mississippi and alabama are under a tornado watch right now until about 10:00 this evening and a tornado warning has just been issued. you can see in that red box silver creek and prentice, mississippi , if you're located in that red box well to the south of jackson take over now. there are reports of a tornado. you need to get a basement or interior room in your home. this is the situation that's setting up tonight. we have that threat for tornadoes to develop pretty much out of nowhere so you need to be on alert and be prepared to protect yourself. now this whole storm system is extremely massive. we've had reports of tornadoes as far away as north carolina . this is some of the video that came in about an hour or so ago and we have reports of tornadoes on the ground and the tornado watch in effect for parts of north carolina until 9:00 this evening. we still have the threat of storms tomorrow, but a threat of tornado outbreak diminishes so that is a sense of improvement as we go into wednesday.