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Tornado survivor: 'Sounded like 7 freight trains'

The worst sound Eric Funkhouser said he has ever heard was a 10-second "voom" followed by a man's screams for his family.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The worst sound Eric Funkhouser said he has ever heard was a 10-second "voom" followed by a man's screams.

A tornado hit Funkhouser's home in Murfreesboro, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, on Friday, part of severe storms that spawned tornadoes across the Southeast blamed for three deaths and dozens of injuries.

"It sounded like seven freight trains and 22 vacuum cleaners all going at the same time," Funkhouser said Saturday as he returned to what is left of his home and neighborhood.

Funkhouser ran outside and found his neighbor John Bryant laying in Funkhouser's front yard, covered with blood and screaming.

"He kept saying that his wife and baby were out there with him and he had to find them," Funkhouser said.

Sad discoveries
Twenty minutes later, Funkhouser and other survivors found Bryant's wife, Kori, dead in the gravel driveway under debris and 9-week-old Olivia Bryant was found dead buckled into her car seat, beneath carpet and a tree.

Family friend Laura Lawrence said Bryant, a self-employed construction worker, had just gotten home on his lunch break. He, his wife and daughter were seeking shelter when the tornado rolled through.

National Weather Service officials say a preliminary report shows the EF3 tornado tore a 15-mile path through the university town of about 100,000 with winds as high as 165 mph.

Deputy City Manager Rob Lyons said 42 homes were destroyed, 140 were damaged and 71 were affected but habitable. Several thousand customers were still without power Saturday.

More than 40 people were injured. Seven people were in critical condition Saturday afternoon, said Rutherford County Emergency Medical Services director Randy White.

John Bryant is in critical condition with a broken back, Lawrence said Saturday, as she gathered the family's clothes and pictures from their neighbors' yards.

Governor offers prayers
During a tour of the damaged areas on Saturday, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen walked past a pile of pink baby clothes topped with the Bryants' wedding album, paused before yellow and gray tarps marking where the mother and daughter were found and bowed his head.

"My thoughts and prayers are with them. It's very sad," Bredesen said.

He then walked through the neighborhood that was hardest hit, listening to survivors share stories of how they hid in bathrooms and pantries.

Bredesen said he may request a presidential declaration of emergency after Tennessee Emergency Management Agency officials completely survey the area.

Community pitches in
Church members and neighbors joined survivors in cleaning up debris, patching up roofs with blue tarps and sawing tree branches from cars and houses.

Community response has been overwhelming, Lyons said, with volunteers offering to remove debris and give donations.

"One of the things that makes Murfreesboro a great city is that we come together and help each other," he said.

But he said others should try and stay out of the area so they don't obstruct rescue and cleanup workers trying to do their jobs.

City officials have set up a hot line for people who want to volunteer and victims seeking help.

Murfreesboro Mayor Tommy Bragg said water is running on generator power but power and gas remain off in the areas worst hit. Code inspectors were going door to door to assess damage to homes.

They condemned the Funkhousers' home with a sticker that read "Unsafe. Do not enter or occupy."

The Bryants' home, the only wood house on the block, was destroyed and most of the siding was in Funkhouser's yard.

Churches and utility companies passed out hot dogs, hamburgers, ham sandwiches, chips and water to families and volunteers.

"This is something we have to do because you can't just look over this damage," church volunteer Lacie Young said. "We were so blessed and have to share these blessings."

Damage widespread
Reports of destruction were widespread across the region Friday, with funnel clouds spotted in Kentucky and Alabama and devastating winds, huge hail and heavy rain reported in several states.

In South Carolina, a driver trying to avoid storm debris in the eastern part of the state was killed Friday, state Emergency Management Division spokesman Derrec Becker said.

On Thursday night, a black funnel cloud packing winds of at least 136 mph descended on the western Arkansas hamlet of Mena, killing at least three, injuring 30 and destroying or damaging 600 homes.

There, emergency officials are trying to collect ice chests and tarps to prepare for another round of storms projected to hit the area Sunday. Crews have already used 1,000 tarps to cover damaged roofs, and workers are struggling to keep perishables refrigerated because power is still out in Mena.