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Neighbors help as cleanup begins

More than 1,000 homes damaged or destroyed in this week's severe weather outbreak Iin the Mid-South.

NASHVILLE | February 8, 2008

As neighbors helped neighbors in the Mid-South Thursday, disaster response organizations nationwide dispatched teams and began planning a response that is expected to last more than a year.

More than 55 people were killed across five states Tuesday in one of the worst tornado outbreaks in more than a quarter century.

Tennessee and Arkansas received the worst damage. In Tennessee, more than 500 homes were destroyed according to initial assessments (see report posted below). Nearly 550 homes were damaged or destroyed in neighboring Arkansas.

Lutheran Disaster Response, Presbyterian Disaster Response, Christian Reformed World Relief (CRWRC), Mennonite Disaster Service, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Catholic Charities and NECHAMA, a Jewish response organization, were amongst the faith-based organizations that have dispatched assessment teams to the hard-hit communities.

In west Tennessee, volunteer teams associated with the Memphis Conference of The United Methodist Church were assisting residents in several hard-hit areas Thursday and expected to return to the same communities Friday. Volunteer teams are expecting to stay in the Jackson, TN, area for at least six weeks.

Volunteers related to Mennonite Disaster Service were also assisting in the initial clean up Thursday.

The Tuesday night storms thundered through Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama, overturning trucks, ripping houses from their foundations, smashing cars, and uprooting trees, leaving many people trapped and waiting for rescue.

Significant damage was reported in at least five areas of Arkansas where weather forecasters said a supercell thunderstorm that stayed on the ground for 2 and half hours Tuesday night spawned a number of tornadoes. Thousands of people were left without power.

Churches and schools were also damaged. Emergency officials in Sharp County said the local high school in Highland was severely damaged.

More than 25 tractor-trailers were involved in a series of accidents on Interstate 40 west of Jackson, temporarily closing the highway in both directions for most of the night and into Wednesday morning. The storm ruptured an ammonia tank at a bottling plant in Memphis, which no longer poses any threat to those in the area. A broken natural gas line at the Columbia Gulf Transmission Co. in Hartsville spewed flames more than 500 feet in the air and burned throughout the night, but by Wednesday morning, the fire was under control.

The Salvation Army has set up mobile meal trucks that are moving throughout the damaged areas providing meals for those who are beginning the recovery efforts.

In Mississippi, the damage was limited to a long narrow strip where two tornadoes touched down several times in the northern part of the state. In Lafayette County, near Oxford, there was one reported injury, several homes destroyed and some industrial damage to a pair of businesses. In DeSoto County, there was widespread damage reported including damage to a shopping mall, to the Memphis (TN) Airport, which is right on the state border, and to the FedEx facility at that airport.

According to Jeff Masters of The Weather Underground, Tuesday's tornado outbreak was the worst in almost a quarter of a century. In 1985, tornadoes struck Pennsylvania and Ohio, taking some 88 lives. He said it is unusual for tornadoes to form so early in the year and that the warm weather that has settled over much of the south, which collided with a cold front, produced the volatile weather.


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