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75 million Americans under threat of severe weather

Posted at 12:31 PM, Apr 29, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-29 12:31:38-04

(CNN) -- From Missouri to New York, Michigan to Florida, forecasters urged millions of Americans to keep an eye on the weather Tuesday, warning of tornadoes, high winds and hail spawned by the storm system that's killed 29 people in the last two days.

While no new storms had been reported Tuesday, forecasters warned of a slight to moderate risk of severe weather as the day went on for some 75 million people in the eastern half of the United States.

Mississippi and Alabama -- where tornadoes Monday caused widespread destruction and several deaths -- were again in the bull's-eye for the worst of Tuesday's weather forecast.

Tens of thousands were without power in those two states, where suspected tornadoes chewed through homes and businesses late Monday, killing at least 13 people. Those deaths are in addition to 16 others reported in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa from storms Sunday.

In Tupelo, Mississippi, employees at a Steak Escape restaurant survived by huddling in the bathroom as the storm destroyed the building around them, Mayor Jason Shelton told CNN's "New Day."

"That was just a miracle of God," he said.

Anthony Bishop and his co-workers also had a close call when the storm hit their lube shop.

"Right as it ripped the roof off the building ... we all jumped in the pit," Bishop told CNN affiliate WMC-TV. "Heard blocks hitting cars above me, glass flying all around the pit where we were."

Tuesday's threat

The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center said nearly 2.5 million people in parts of Alabama and Mississippi were at moderate risk of of tornadoes, damaging winds and scattered large hail.

Some 73 million people in a much larger region stretching from the Great Lakes south to the Gulf of Mexico and east to the Atlantic Ocean was at slight risk of severe weather, forecasters said.

The threat was expected to drift slowly east, putting parts of Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Mid-Atlantic states at slight risk of severe weather on Thursday, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

On Monday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for the entire state as severe weather advanced toward his state, saying it was impossible to know where the storm might do damage.

'It hurts to look'

Monday's storms left a trail of damage through several Mississippi and Alabama communities.

Mississippi authorities confirmed eight deaths there. Three people died in Alabama and two in Tennessee, according to officials.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said the twisters inflicted "severe damage" around the town of Louisville, about 90 miles northeast of Jackson.

Winston Medical Center, Louisville's major hospital, was among the buildings hit.

In Tupelo, buildings near a major commercial district on the city's north side were "wiped away," Scott Morris, a reporter for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, told CNN's "The Lead."

Numerous trees and power lines were down, and "quite a few buildings are destroyed up there," Morris said.

The storm destroyed Britney Butler's home in Tupelo, WMC-TV reported.

"It hurts to look, because I won't come home tonight," said Butler, who still managed to smile after discovering her dog had come out unscathed. "Oreo means the most to me."

As things got ugly, Matt Laubhan, the chief meteorologist at Tupelo television station WTVA, took charge. He ordered station staff to take cover before walking off the set himself.

"Basement. Now ... let's go," Laubhan said.

Two people died in Lincoln County, Tennessee, near the border with Alabama.

Part of an elementary school there was torn away, the building's roof was ripped off and the storm hurled a school bus into the school, CNN affiliate WSMV reported. Both the bus and school were empty at the time, the station said.

Alabama also hit hard

Near Athens, Alabama, two people died at a trailer park.

The storm reduced a complex of houses and duplex apartments in Athens to rubble. Downed power lines and gas leaks made the area dangerous, CNN's Brian Todd reported from Athens.

A third person died in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, after a retaining wall collapsed on him.

Authorities in Limestone County, Alabama, where Athens is located, asked people to stay off roads wherever possible Tuesday. Emergency crews need unimpeded access to roads, and extensive damage and downed power lines make travel hazardous, authorities said in the message transmitted by the National Weather Service.

In Jefferson County, Alabama -- site of the state's largest city, Birmingham -- a fire station was hit, as was a church. People were trapped for a time in the church, but no one was seriously injured, Horace Walker, a spokesman for county's emergency management agency told "New Day."

About 38,000 homes and businesses served by Alabama Power Co. were without electricity Tuesday, the utility said on Twitter. About 10,000 customers remained without power around Jackson, Mississippi, Entergy Mississippi reported.

Act II

Monday's storms were Act II of a powerful weather system that brought punishing thunderstorms to the central United States. Suspected tornadoes spawned by those storms on Sunday killed 14 people in Arkansas and one each in Oklahoma and Iowa, authorities in those states reported.

Sunday's hardest-hit area was Faulkner County, Arkansas, where a suspected tornado shattered homes, tossed tractor-trailers and killed 10 people in the towns of Vilonia and Mayflower. Two children were among the dead.

CNN's Martin Savidge, Ed Payne, Chad Myers, Tina Burnside and Shawn Nottingham contributed to this report.

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