The muddy field was littered with debris after a wave of violent storms: living room couches, strollers, children's toys. So when two rescuers came upon a baby, they thought he was a doll.
Then he moved.
"We grabbed hold of his neck (to take a pulse) and he took a breath of air and started crying," said David Harmon, a firefighter from a nearby county who was combing the field for tornado victims.
The boy was found at least 100 yards away from where his family's house had been, possibly lifted by the storm's fierce winds, according to witnesses at the scene on Thursday. There was no trace of exactly where the house stood. His mother, who did not survive, was found in the same field.
As the death toll across the region rose by two Thursday to 57 people, the infant was a sign of hope. The 11-month old boy, named Kyson, was surrounded by flattened homes, bricks from a blown-apart post office and snapped trees, a devastating scene similar to so many communities across the South.
The baby's mother, 24-year-old Kerri Stowell, was one of six people killed in the small community, said Sumner County Sheriff Bob Barker.
Helicopters trace wreckage
Federal and state emergency teams poured into the hardest-hit areas, along with utility workers and insurance claims representatives. Hundreds of homes were demolished across the region and officials were only beginning to tally how much the tornadoes would cost.
President Bush, who said he called the governors of the affected states to offer support, plans to come to Tennessee on Friday. "Prayers can help and so can the government," Bush said.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff joined Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen Thursday on a helicopter tour of storm damage in the Jackson area.
The three Blackhawk helicopters circled Union University, where 26 students had to be rescued after being trapped in the rubble of dormitories that were shredded around them by a tornado. Several students were injured, but remarkably no one was killed. Debris from the dorms and overturned cars remained strewn across the campus. The helicopters followed the path of of the storm, tracing the wreckage of trees, homes and vehicles.
“I find it astonishing. It is truly a miracle that lives were not lost there,” Bredesen said.
Charity efforts were beginning for those who lost their homes. A classroom inside the Pleasant Field Full Gospel Church building in Scottsville, Ky., was filled with bags of clothes and a nearby kitchen was stuffed with donated food, ready for residents displaced by the storm.
Weather conditions were ripe for tornadoes and forecasters were ready with warnings and in many hard-hit areas, sirens and TV warnings were credited with helping keep the death toll from being even worse. The National Weather Service put out more than 1,000 tornado warnings covering an 11-state radius from 3 p.m. Tuesday to 6 a.m. Wednesday.
Deadliest since '85
In the mostly rural area of Lafayette, there are no tornado sirens. Shelvy Linville, the county mayor, said he didn't think they would have made much difference because of the way the 23,000 residents are spread out.
"You don't really think it's going to hit you until you realize it's on top of you, then it's too late," he said.
The twisters killed at least 32 people in Tennessee, 13 in Arkansas, seven in Kentucky and five in Alabama, emergency officials said. It was one of the 15 worst tornado death tolls since 1950, and the nation's deadliest barrage of tornadoes since 76 people were killed in Pennsylvania and Ohio on May 31, 1985.
Telia Sorrells, 24, who with her mother and her mother's boyfriend filled garbage bags with belongings pulled from the rubble of her home Wednesday evening, said she was sitting on her couch watching storm coverage on television and talking with her mother by cell phone when the power abruptly went out.
"Something is hitting the house," she told her mother. Then, "It's here!"
"I'm surprised that I'm alive," said Sorrels, who suffered a gash to her head. The twister left only parts of her two walls standing.