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Some 50 dead in southeast tornadoes

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–More than 60 rare winter tornadoes touched down in parts of Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi Feb. 5, killing at least 48 people and leaving residents to cope with damaged homes, downed power lines and fallen trees.

At Union University, a Baptist-affiliated school in Jackson, Tenn., 12 students were temporarily trapped in a collapsed dorm and 51 students were taken to the hospital, none with life threatening injuries.

Sharon Baptist Church in Savannah, along the Tennessee River in southwest Tennessee, was destroyed. The church, which also houses Savannah Christian Academy for kindergarten through ninth grade, is led by Jerry Spencer, a former Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee member and former itinerant evangelist. The school had been a ministry of the church since 1997.

“I’d say it’s totally destroyed,” a dispatcher at the Hardin County sheriff’s office told Baptist Press. “The main part of the building, I saw videos of it. It’s kind of standing, but it probably won’t be stable, and the metal buildings were completely destroyed. I would just about say they’ll have to tear it down and start over.”

The deaths included 24 people in Tennessee, 13 in Arkansas, seven in Kentucky and four in Alabama, according to the Associated Press. The storms prompted early poll closings in Super Tuesday primaries in various locations, and presidential candidates mentioned the victims in their speeches amid election returns during the course of the evening.

At the swearing in of a new cabinet member Feb. 6, President Bush said his thoughts are on the people suffering from the tornados.

“Our administration is reaching out to state officials,” Bush said. “I just called the governors of the affected states. I wanted them to know that this government will help them; but more importantly, I wanted them to be able to tell the people in their states that the American people hold those who suffer up in prayer.

“Loss of life, a lot of loss of property — prayers can help and so can the government,” the president said. “And so today before we begin this important ceremony, I do want the people in those states to know the American people are standing with them.”

In Arkansas, a couple and their daughter were killed when their home was hit by a tornado in Adkins, along the Arkansas River. Power was knocked out briefly at a Little Rock convention hall where GOP candidate Mike Huckabee was hosting a rally Tuesday night, NBC News said.

“While we hope tonight is a time for us to celebrate election results, we are reminded that nothing is as important as the lives of these fellow Arkansans, and our hearts go out to their families,” said Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor.

At least three people were killed in a mobile home park in western Kentucky’s Muhlenberg County. In Memphis, Tenn., a mall sustained serious damage to its infrastructure when the wall of a Sears department store collapsed. Also in the city, three people were killed and a dozen were injured when part of a warehouse fell on them, CNN said.

Residents at a nursing home in Jackson, Tenn., were evacuated after their building sustained significant damage, and tractor-trailer rigs and other vehicles on nearby Interstate 40 were overturned. At least five people died in Sumner County, Tenn., north of Nashville, when their homes were hit. Northeast of Nashville, a fire erupted at a natural gas pumping station, sending flames hundreds of feet into the air.

Numerous homes were destroyed when a tornado cut a 10-mile path of destruction through Lawrence County in Alabama. Residents who were not dealt damage in the South faced heavy winds and rain, and thousands remained without electrical power Wednesday morning.

The storms continued to march east on Wednesday, hitting Georgia and Florida.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.

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