By Brendan O’Brien
(Reuters) – Rescue workers and homeowners across the U.S. South on Monday sifted through what remained of hundreds of structures destroyed by a series of tornadoes that killed at least 26 people, as the deadly weather system churned up the East Coast.
Nearly 51 million people from Florida to New England were in the path of the system, with National Weather Service forecasters warning of strong winds, torrential rain and possibly more tornadoes on Monday afternoon.
The system had already spawned about 60 reported tornadoes that left a path of destruction from Texas to the Carolinas on Sunday and Monday, the weather service reported.
Powerful winds in the upper atmosphere combined with a strong cold front to make the system particularly dangerous, said weather service meteorologist Aaron Tyburski.
“This was very typical of the spring season – definitely not something out of the ordinary – but it is very active,” he said.
At least 11 people were killed in Mississippi, eight in South Carolina, six in Georgia and one in Arkansas in the storms, local media and state officials reported.
Five of the people who were killed in Georgia were in two Murray County mobile home parks that were leveled as tornadoes rolled through the area, Murray County Fire Chief Dewayne Bain told a Fox News affiliate in the region.
Among the dead in Mississippi were Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Robert Ainsworth and his wife, Paula.
“Robert left this world a hero, as he shielded Mrs. Paula during the tornado,” the sheriff’s department said on Facebook.
Local media across the region showed images and video clips of homeowners and rescue workers picking through piles of rubble as flattened homes, overturned vehicles and downed power lines covered the landscape.
“It just tore everything. Everything’s gone,” Latesha Dillon, whose brother was killed in Walthall County, Mississippi, told a local ABC affiliate.
Firefighters in Orangeburg County, South Carolina, found a handful of people trapped in two homes on Monday, the Times and Democrat, the local newspaper, reported.
In Upson County, Georgia, 65 miles (105 km) south of Atlanta, homeowner Paul McDaniel and his wife raced to an interior part of their home as a reported tornado rolled through their neighborhood early on Monday.
“I heard it and grabbed her and we ran into the hall and … it was something like I never heard before,” McDaniel told a Fox News affiliate in the region.
Nearly 580,000 million homes and businesses in North and South Carolina, Arkansas, New York and Virginia were without power on Monday, Poweroutage said.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; editing by Jonathan Oatis)