Crews search rubble for tornado survivors

Monday, February 18th 2008, 9:13 am
By: News 9

Associated Press

PRATTVILLE, Ala.  -- Rescue crews searched door-to-door for people trapped in wreckage after a tornado crashed through town, part of a wild weekend of weather that also included rain, snow and flooding in the Midwest.

No fatalities were immediately reported in Prattville, outside Montgomery, but two people were critically injured, said Fire Department official Dallis Johnson.

Twenty-seven people had minor injuries, officials said. About 200 homes were damaged or destroyed. A curfew began as darkness fell Sunday.

A 35-bed mobile hospital unit was set up outside a Kmart to treat victims with minor to moderate injuries so that hospitals could take those with serious injuries, Dr. Steve Allen said.
Toppled utility poles and storm debris littered the area. Shelters opened at churches, and school buses shuttled storm victims out of the stricken area to the city center.

David Shoupe, 18, assistant manager at Palm Beach Tan, said he and a co-worker barely made it into a laundry room before the roof fell in and the wind tossed shopping carts aloft.

"Soon as we turned the corner, the roof collapsed everywhere except the laundry room," Shoupe said, standing beside his car, which had its front windshield cracked by debris and the other windows shattered.

About 9,000 homes and businesses lost power in Prattville. The tornado was part of storms that swept across the South, damaging homes elsewhere in Alabama and in the Florida Panhandle.

A tornado destroyed four homes in Escambia County, Fla. About 60 other homes, businesses and storage buildings were damaged to varying degrees, said county spokeswoman Sonya Daniel.

Residents hustled to clear debris, cover broken windows and spread tarpaulins on roofs. "I expected to hear the roof blow off as bad as that wind was blowing," Willie Chastang, 58, told the Pensacola News Journal.

Across the border in Escambia County, Ala., two houses were destroyed by a possible tornado in rural Dixie, the Weather Service said.

The storm damaged some structures in Covington County, Ala., and toppled trees, said Jeremie Shaffer, assistant director of the county emergency management agency.

Freezing rain and snow fell across the southern two-thirds of Wisconsin, still weary from a major snowstorm that stranded hundreds of motorists and snarled travel for days.

Numerous crashes were reported, and authorities urged people to stay off roads. The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for much of Iowa and Wisconsin, as well as flood warnings in parts of the two states.

The conditions forced shopping malls, libraries and churches to close. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama postponed or canceled campaign stops ahead of Tuesday's primary.

Heavy snow and slush closed Kansas City International Airport for almost six hours, the longest closure in its 35-year history, authorities said. Dozens of flights were canceled.

The severe weather in the South comes on the heels of a tornado outbreak this month that killed more than 50 people in several states, including Alabama.