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Unrelenting Twisters Kill 2 in Illinois

May 08, 2003|From Associated Press

DE SOTO, Mo. — Tornadoes swept across the Midwest and South late Tuesday and early Wednesday, killing two people in Illinois and battering a region still trying to recover from deadly weekend twisters.

A junior high gymnasium in this community 35 miles southwest of St. Louis was destroyed in Tuesday night's twister but 25 young track athletes and their coaches were spared because they had fled the gym.

"Chairs started flying. Everything started shaking. It was scary," Travis Shores, 14, said as he visited the destruction Wednesday.

At least four tornadoes hit southern Illinois overnight Tuesday, killing two people, injuring at least 20 and destroying or damaging scores of homes. In Mermet, the trailer of Mariam Houchins, 65, was wrapped around tree trunks; her body was found in a ravine. Steve Kohn, 53, was killed in nearby Grand Chain.

Brenda Crockett of Mermet had climbed out of her basement after the first tornado struck and was surveying the rubble of her house when she saw a second twister bearing down on her.

"There was nothing for me to do except lie down and grab the grass," said Crockett, who spent Wednesday looking for family photos and other treasures.

Tornadoes also damaged more than a dozen trailer homes in northeastern Mississippi and Downsville, La., but no serious injuries were reported. High wind and heavy rain also hit parts of Arkansas and Alabama, where officials closed schools and some churches canceled midweek services.

In eastern Tennessee, which has been drenched by rain since Sunday, flooding forced Chattanooga residents to take emergency shelter as the Tennessee River rose toward its highest level in nearly 30 years. The Tennessee Valley Authority said 300 homes and other structures could be flooded and damage could reach $7 million.

The death toll from the weekend's storms stood at 40 -- 18 in Missouri, 15 in Tennessee and seven in Kansas.

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