Gov. Phil Bredesen, Deputy Gov. John Morgan and U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn. were among the officials expected to tour the affected areas in Rutherford County.
On Friday afternoon, search teams fanned out across the central Tennessee city of Murfreesboro, looking for anyone trapped in rubble.
Clyde Atkinson, spokesman for the Murfreesboro Police Department, said he believes there were three to five tornado touchdowns mostly in the northern and western parts of the city of about 100,000.
As emergency crews worked their way through neighborhoods, they emblazoned homes with a spray-painted “c,” indicating they had been checked.
Reports of destruction were widespread across the region Friday, with funnel clouds spotted in Kentucky and Alabama and devastating winds, huge hail and heavy rain reported in several states. The damage was worst in Rutherford County, Tenn., some 30 miles northeast of Nashville.
At least 41 people were injured there, four of them critically. In Murfreesboro, at least three dozen homes were destroyed. Roofs were peeled from at least a dozen homes, and a bulldozer cleared limbs and other debris from streets.
The bodies of Kori Bryant, in her mid-20s, and 9-week-old Olivia Bryant were found near their driveway. The mother was apparently trying to get her baby into a car – both were found outside, and the infant was in a car seat, rescue official Randy White said.
Andrew Piro, 23, who was on his way to work when the tornado struck, told the Knoxville News-Sentinel he came upon a man who said his brother’s wife and child were missing.
“Outside under the rubble, we found the wife,” Piro said. “She was right beside the driveway, about 20 feet away from the house. She was under a bunch of wood, I guess part of the roof. We found the baby strapped into a car seat, about another 20 feet away under a tree. It broke my heart.”
Joe Spencer, 23, a student at Middle Tennessee State University, said he had only moments to react but survived a direct hit on his house.
“I was going to open the door to see what was going on and I looked straight at a tornado,” Spencer said.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
He yelled at his brother to take shelter in one of the home’s bathrooms and then ran to the other, jumping into the bathtub while holding his dog, Lloyd. All were uninjured.
In southwestern Kentucky near Mannington, State Trooper Stu Recke said one person suffered a broken hip and leg while the other suffered a broken ankle. Both were taken to a hospital for treatment, Recke said. The tornado there ripped homes from their foundations.
Several possible tornadoes were reported in north Georgia as heavy rain, hail and winds downed trees and power lines. Flights were delayed for up to 90 minutes at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as dark gray clouds swirled in from the west.
On Thursday night, a black funnel cloud packing winds of at least 136 mph descended on the western Arkansas hamlet of Mena, killing at least three, injuring 30 and destroying or damaging 600 homes.
Polk County, Ark., Sheriff Mike Oglesby said search-and-rescue teams had combed through the city’s downtown Friday and a neighborhood just west that sustained the brunt of the storm without finding any other victims. The sheriff said he had no reports of anyone else missing in the city of 5,700 in the Ouachita Mountains.
Associated Press writers Kristin M. Hall in Murfreesboro and Lucas L. Johnson II in Mannington, Ky., contributed to this report.