Tornado Victims Begin Difficult Task Ahead

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All across the South, residents begin the slow and difficult process of cleaning up, putting back together the broken pieces and rebuilding their now-unrecognizable communities after Tuesday's deadly tornadoes.

Tuesday's storms spawned the deadliest twisters in 23 years, killing at least 55 people. Many are still awestruck at how they made it out alive.

"We could see our house flying over us while we were down in the shelter, so the only thing we could do was pray and lay on top of our boys," said Barbie McCuan. Within minutes, she said "it was all over and everything was gone."

"I'm very thankful that I made it out. I thank God for that," said John Burton, from Kentucky.

Dozens of twisters tore a path of destruction across Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama and hardest it - Tennesee, where the governor described the storm's aftermath as "the wrath of God."

Miracle Baby in Tennesee

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who viewed the northern Tennessee damage by helicopter, said after his aerial tour: "It looks like the Lord took a Brillo pad and scrubbed the ground."

Thirty-one people of the 55 known deaths died in this state. President Bush plans to tour the state tomorrow. On Wednesday, he called each governor assuring them of quick support for all the areas affected.

"Loss of life, lots of loss of property, prayers can help, so can the government," Bush said Wednesday.

One of the most amazing survival stories is out of Castilian Springs, Tennessee. A squalling baby was found by a bystander across from a demolished post office. The man wrapped the baby in his shirt after picking the infant up out of a pile of debris. An emergency official says the baby showed no obvious sign of trauma. His mother did not survive.

"He had debris all over him, but there were no obvious signs of trauma," said Ken Weidner, Sumner County emergency management director.

Macon County Mayor Shelvy Linville could only shake his head at the horrific toll left by a deadly series of tornadoes that pounded across the South.

"It really is unbelievable that Mother Nature can create that much devastation," he said Wednesday night. "We need your prayers."

Scene after Scene

The tornadoes were so deadly because so many were "long-track tornadoes" that stay on the ground for up to 50 miles, rather than simply touching down then lifting up again.

Throughout the region, the scene is the same: piles of rubble, downed power lines, and homes and businesses flattened to their foundation.

"I didn't recognize it, and I've been here several times," survivor Brian Fitzgerald said. "As a matter of fact, they had to tell me this was a house.

Officials at Union University, a Christian school in Jackson, Tenn. are still assessing the damage today: seventeen buildings received partial or heavy damage.

It is the third time the school has been hit by a tornado in less than 10 years.

Union University President David S. Dockery said Wednesday that about 50 students had been taken to a hospital shortly after the tonadoes struck. Nine stayed through the night. The students "demonstrated who they are and I'm so proud of them," he said.

"If you walk through this campus and realize that there were 33-hundred students in class yesterday and 12-hundred on campus last night, and you see what happened on this campus, with no loss of life, it's an amazing thing," Dockery said.  ( View photos from the scene, provided by Kevin Cooney, Union political science professor.)

Grateful survivors like terry thomas of Atkins, Ark. say they'll rebuild. But for the moment, at least, she's cannot forget her last thoughts before taking cover.

"I was going to die," she said. "I was going to die right here, and I wouldn't take my family for granted ever again."

Federal and State Help

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.

There were no comprehensive estimates yet on damages, but the tornadoes' paths left behind flattened streets and treelines, shredded mobile homes, flipped-over tractor-trailers and trucks, and concrete floors where homes, garages and carports once stood.

The tornadoes' wake of destruction was one of the 15 worst since 1950. The nation's deadliest barrage of tornadoes since 76 people were killed in Pennsylvania and Ohio on May 31, 1985.

Sources: CBN News, The Associated Press

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