U.S. East Coast, Midwest battered by strong storm systems

WAVERLY, Va. -- Storms systems brought tornadoes to the East Coast -- killing four in Virginia -- heavy snow that cancelled hundreds of flights in the Midwest and power outages that left hundreds of thousands across several states in the dark.

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Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency Wednesday night after tornadoes damaged homes and left thousands without power across the state.

Elsewhere, officials in South Carolina said a man was killed Wednesday when a tree fell on him.

In Virginia, the tiny town of Waverly took the brunt of the storm. The Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said a 2-year-old child and two men, ages 50 and 26, were killed there during the storm. Their bodies were found about 300 yards from their mobile home.

At least five structures were damaged in the town of approximately 2,000 and roads leading into town had to be closed because of downed trees and debris tossed by winds gusting to 60 mph, Geller said.

In Appomattox County, a funnel cloud left an 8- to 10-mile path of destruction, injuring seven people and killing one man, state police said.

At least 15 structures were destroyed and 25 injuries were reported when the storm passed through Essex County and the town of Tappahannock, about 45 miles northeast of Richmond, state police said. The injuries ranged from minor to serious, but there were no confirmed fatalities.

In Waverly, witnesses said the storm swept through with little warning.

Timothy Williams said a friend had just come by to take his new car for a drive when the storm hit.

"It picked the car right off the ground, and put it right back on the ground," said Williams, 44. He said they remained in the car until the storm passed.

The storm blew down electrical wires "in a big ball of fire, thrashing all about each other," Williams said. He said they both escaped shaken but uninjured.

In South Carolina, Darlington County Corner Todd Hardee said in a statement that Michael Gaines Sr., 58, had stopped on a road near his home Wednesday to remove debris from the road when a pine tree fell on him. Sheriff Wayne Byrd said the victim was being a good Samaritan when he was killed.

The line of storms moved across Pennsylvania and the New York City area Wednesday night, bringing strong winds and heavy rains that knocked down trees and caused scattered power outages.

In the Midwest, a powerful storm brought heavy snow and biting winds, leading to mass flight cancellations at Chicago airports and school closings in several states.

The Chicago Department of Aviation reported more than 1,100 flights had been cancelled at the city's two major airports by Wednesday evening.

Northern Indiana was expected to see the heaviest snow, as powerful winds blowing off Lake Michigan could bury the area in up to 18 inches. Parts of Michigan could also see more than a foot of snow, and some schools closed ahead of the storm. Most of the state was under a winter storm warning that extends until at least Thursday afternoon.

Bill Bunting with National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center estimated 20 to 24 tornados hit from Louisiana to Florida on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, one of the hardest-hit areas along the Gulf Coast was a recreational vehicle park in the town of Convent, in southern Louisiana. RVs were tossed about and lay on top of wrecked cars and pickup trucks. Two people were killed there, and 31 injured people were taken to area hospitals, St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin said.

Briaxton Lott, 23, was in the trailer park when the tornado hit. The pad where his trailer once sat was empty and he pointed to the remnants of it about 100 feet away.

"The whole front end came up and slammed back down, and I grabbed up the baby and the next thing I know we just went rolling end over end," Lott said.

In Mississippi, 73-year-old Dale Purvis died of blunt-force trauma in a mobile home west of Purvis, Lamar County Coroner Cody Creel said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said an apparent tornado in the Pensacola area significantly damaged more than 70 homes and 24 apartments, leaving three people with minor injuries.

He stopped at The Moorings apartment complex, where winds ripped the roof off of at least two buildings.

Residents in LaPlace, Louisiana, were cleaning up Wednesday after a tornado ripped up trees, tore roofs from houses and terrified local residents. Nearly 200 homes were damaged.

Rose Fuselier, 80, had a gaping hole where her home's front window once stood.

"The whole backyard is covered with trees, and then my shed is torn up, too. The roof is gone, and the siding is partially gone," she said. Still, she said others suffered damage even worse than hers: "I lucked out. I lucked out."

Associated Press writers Rebecca Santana, in LaPlace, Louisiana; Melissa Nelson-Gabriel in Pensacola, Florida; Bill Fuller and Chevel Johnson in New Orleans; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Alanna Durkin Richer and Steve Szkotak in Richmond, Virginia; Kasey Jones in Baltimore and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.


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