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Twister alerts in South, East as storm spreads

The massive storm that spawned twisters and cut power to 200,000 on Tuesday wasn't done yet, with new tornado watches issued in the South and mid-Atlantic areas.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

The massive storm that spawned twisters and cut power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses on Tuesday wasn't done yet, with new tornado alerts issued Wednesday in the South and mid-Atlantic areas and flight delays from Minneapolis to Boston.

Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and Georgia — including suburban areas south of Atlanta — were alerted Wednesday morning, while a watch was issued around noon for Delaware, eastern Maryland, northcentral North Carolina, southern New Jersey and eastern Virginia.

"Hail to once inch in diameter, thunderstorm wind gusts to 70 mph and dangerous lightning are possible in these areas," the National Weather Service said in its mid-Atlantic watch that runs until 8 p.m. ET.

On top of that, North Dakota was seeing more snow after white-out conditions on Tuesday dumped up to 8 inches.

Linnea Reeves, a Walmart employee in Bismarck, N.D., said the snow has already made roads hazardous.

"The weather is not very nice out here. The winds are picking up and it's very snowy very slick," Reeves said. "I've got my snow shovel in my car in case I get stuck."

Schools were closed or had delays because of snow in northern Minnesota, where over seven inches fell in Duluth since Tuesday evening.

In the Northeast, southeastern New York, Long Island, New Jersey, southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, eastern Maryland and eastern and southern Virginia could experience severe thunderstorms Wednesday, The Weather Channel reported.

The Weather Channel said that at least 24 confirmed or suspected tornadoes were reported on Tuesday.

The worst twister was in Vale, N.C., where 11 people were injured and several homes damaged.

One emergency responder said a woman and three children survived with only cuts and minor injuries after the storm late Tuesday tore apart their mobile home and an adjacent house.

Jack Hambrick sits inside his destroyed home in Vale, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010 after powerful thunderstorms moved through the area. At least eleven people were hurt and eight homes damaged when a possible tornado touched down in Lincoln County in western North Carolina Tuesday evening, emergency officials said. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)Chuck Burton / AP

"It was a miracle they survived," said Leslie Bowen, who found the family standing amid the wreckage. "It was just total chaos."

"Everywhere you walked was just debris," she said about the town in the foothills of Appalachia.

Yolanda Corona's family was left wondering where to live after the storm blew out their living room windows, knocked down the chimney and sent a tree through the roof.

Ten relatives were gathered in Corona's home watching television Tuesday night when the wind hit.

"We thought we were going to die. We were just so scared. We didn't have time to do anything. We all just listened and prayed for our lives," Jessica Vargas, Corona's 18-year-old granddaughter, recalled Wednesday morning.

Nobody was seriously hurt. Corona suffered some cuts on her leg.

As it howled across the Midwest and South on Tuesday, the storm packed wind gusts of up to 81 mph Tuesday, snapping trees and power lines, ripping off roofs and delaying flights.

About 500 flights were canceled and others delayed at Chicago's O'Hare Airport on Tuesday and 200 more were canceled Wednesday as high winds continued.

Atlanta's airport, for its part, was seeing 90 minute delays on arriving flights Wednesday afternoon due to the bad weather.

Airports in Minneapolis, Boston, New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia also reported flight disruptions.

The unusual system mesmerized meteorologists because of its size and because it had barometric pressure that was similar to a Category 3 hurricane, but with much less destructive power.

The system's pressure reading Tuesday was among the lowest ever in a non-tropical storm in the mainland U.S. Low pressure brings greater winds.

The fast-moving storm blew in from the Pacific Northwest on the strength of a jet stream that is about one-third stronger than normal for this time of year, said David Imy, operations chief at the national Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

As the system moved into the U.S. heartland, it drew in warm air needed to fuel thunderstorms. Then the winds intensified and suspected tornadoes formed, among them:

  • In Racine County, Wis., where two people were injured when a section of roof was torn off a tractor factory.
  • in Van Wert County, Ohio, near the Indiana border, where a barn was flattened and flipped over a tractor-trailer and camper.
  • At the Chickamauga Dam in Chattanooga, Tenn., where several people were hurt in an accident that led to the closure of the highway there.
  • In Peotone, Ill., where three people were injured when a home's roof came off.

Sheryl Uthemann, 49, was working first shift at the Case New Holland plant in Mount Pleasant, Wis., when the storm blew through and started to lift the roof.

"It was just a regular workday and all of a sudden that noise just came and (co-workers) said 'Run! Run! Run!' You didn't have time to think," she said. "I looked up where the noise was coming from and saw pieces of the roof sucked up. I've never been more scared, ever."

In suburban Chicago, Helen Miller, 41, was injured when a branch fell about 65 feet from a large tree, crashed into her car and impaled her abdomen. Doctors removed the branch and Miller's husband said she asked him to hang on to it.

"She wants to save it for an art project or something," Todd Miller told the Chicago Sun-Times. "She's a bit of a free spirit, so I ran with it."