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June 17th, 2014
04:40 AM ET

Deadly Tornadoes Tear Through Towns

It was a menacing sight - two powerful tornadoes swirling side by side through the countryside of northeastern Nebraska.

At one point, the twin twisters straddled a state highway.

"It was terribly wide," Marianne Pesotta told CNN affiliate KETV in the town of Pilger. "I drove east (to escape). I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."

The decision to flee may have saved her life.

Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger said up to three-quarters of Pilger, a town of about 350 people, was destroyed Monday. The severe weather also caused damage in the towns of Wisner, Stanton and Pender.

All four communities are within about 40 miles of each other, about and hour and a half northwest of Omaha.

The aftermath was almost too much to take for some like Marilyn Andersen, another Pilger resident

"I've never been through this before," she told affiliate KMTVthrough tears. "It was an experience, and I don't want to go through it again."

Two deaths were reported. Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger said a five-year-old was killed in Pilger, but didn't say how. Another person died outside of town, he said.

Faith Regional Health Services in Norfolk said 16 people were critically injured by the storm system.

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Filed under: Nebraska • Tornadoes
April 29th, 2014
04:34 AM ET

75 Million People Under Storm Threat

The scope is staggering. Some 75 million Americans are under threat of severe weather on Tuesday.

People from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast, and from the Midwest to the East Coast, are advised to keep their eyes to the sky and their ears to the radio. That's a third of the country.

The greatest risk will again be in the Deep South, with Mississippi and Alabama in the bull's eye for the worst of the storms.

The first two days of this powerful spring storm system, which is expected to rage into Wednesday, claimed 29 lives in six states.

We'll have the latest updates on "Early Start."

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Filed under: Severe weather • Tornadoes
April 28th, 2014
03:58 AM ET

'Houses Are Just a Pile of Brick'

A brutal band of severe weather battered the central Plains and mid-South late Sunday, killing at least 12 people in Arkansas and one in Oklahoma.

Some of the worst damage was north of Little Rock, Arkansas, where reported tornadoes devastated the towns of Mayflower and Vilonia.

"It's chaos here," said Vilonia Mayor James Firestone. "Our downtown area seems like it's completely leveled."

The nightmare is all too familiar for the community of about 3,800 people. Another storm ransacked the town almost three years ago to the day and followed essentially the same path, the mayor said.

"There's a few buildings partially standing, but the amount of damage is tremendous," Firestone said Sunday. "There's gas lines spewing. Of course, power lines down. Houses are just a pile of brick."

We'll have the latest on "Early Start" at 4am ET.

MORE at CNN.com.

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Filed under: Tornadoes
November 18th, 2013
06:36 AM ET

Tornadoes Rip Through Midwest

They sifted through the darkness, hoping their flashlights would shine on something - anything - salvageable.

Instead, they found their life's belongings strewn in pieces among heaps of rubble where their homes once stood.

But they were the fortunate ones - the ones who survived after 81 reported tornadoes tore through the Midwest on Sunday. The storms killed six people and destroyed at least 70 homes in Illinois alone CNN's Indra Petersons reports.

"These storms having been moving so fast today, it's been hard to keep up," storm chaser Tony Laubach told CNN as he watched a tornado touch down outside Lebanon, Indiana.

In their aftermath, the storms left impassable roads, widespread outages and blocks and blocks of homes stripped bare. Hundreds of thousands were affected; the economic impact in the millions.

"A lot of people have a pile of rubble still, and I don't have anything," said Michelle Crumrine. "It's gone. I don't know where it went."

Crumrine was out of town when her neighborhood in Washington, Illinois, was hit. She returned to a wasteland.

Of all the cities ravaged by the storms, this city of 10,000 people in central Illinois was perhaps the hardest hit.

"It was complete destruction," said resident Anthony Khoury. "There are people in the streets crying."

As the dark twister churned toward his home, Khoury kept his camera glued to the window - and prayed. "Our father, thou art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name."

"The tornado happened in my backyard, and you can hear people screaming," Khoury told CNN's iReport. "We were freaking out."

Investigators have yet to determine the extent of the wrath - including exactly how many tornadoes touched down. Two National Weather Service teams will survey the damage Monday - one in Washington, and one in east central Illinois.