Virginia tornado had winds of up to 265 km/h

WAVERLY, Va. -- Tornadoes tore through towns as far north as Pennsylvania, heavy snow cancelled hundreds of flights in the Midwest and power outages left tens of thousands of residents from the Carolinas to New England in the dark as severe weather raked across a broad swath of the country for a third day.

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The storms Wednesday claimed at least a half-dozen lives, three of them in the tiny town of Waverly, Virginia, where a 2-year-old child and two men, ages 50 and 26, were killed during the storm, said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller. Their bodies were found about 300 yards from their mobile home.

On Tuesday, a tornado that ripped through a recreational vehicle park in Louisiana left two people dead, and a man died of blunt-force trauma when storms hit in Mississippi.

At least five structures were damaged Wednesday in Waverly, a 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 96 km/h, Geller said.

In Appomattox County, Virginia, a tornado with estimated winds of up to 265 km/h left a 13- to 16-kilometre path of destruction, injuring seven people and killing a 78-year-old man, state police said. Edward Keith Harris was found outside his home in Evergreen late Wednesday, Sheriff Barry Letterman told a news conference Thursday.

At least 15 structures were destroyed and 25 injuries were reported when the storm passed through Essex County and the town of Tappahannock, about 72 km northeast of Richmond, state police said. The injuries ranged from minor to serious, but there were no confirmed fatalities.

In Waverly, Larry D. Turner, 50, Devine J. Stringfield, 26, and 2-year-old Ivan T. Lewis died Wednesday afternoon when a twister hit Turner's mobile home in a neighbourhood sandwiched between railroad tracks and U.S. 460. Their bodies were hurled 300 yards across the highway and into a field adjacent to a cemetery, police said.

The toddler's 30-year-old mother, whose name was not released, was also in the trailer but survived. She remained hospitalized Thursday.

Police did not release any further details about the victims, but a state lawmaker and neighbours described Turner as a caring neighbour, fun-loving guy, and concerned citizen who was deeply involved in his community.

The toddler's mother was Turner's girlfriend, and Stringfield was her brother, said neighbour Timothy Williams.

Williams, whose own trailer two doors down from Turner's was destroyed, described Turner as "a good dude" who sometimes came to Williams' house to hang out and watch TV. Williams said he also was a frequent guest of Turner's.

"He loved to cook," Williams said. "Every time I was over there, he was cooking."

State Del. Roslyn Tyler, who represents part of Sussex County where Waverly is located, said she had known Turner for about 30 years, and that he was a strong advocate for his community. Whenever someone in Waverly needed help in an emergency, she could always count on a call from Turner, Tyler said.

"He came from a big family in that particular area and knew everybody," she said.

In southern Michigan, a 6-year-old girl died following a three-vehicle crash. State police say Harlyn Radley died after the crash Wednesday afternoon near Battle Creek when a car driven by the child's mother lost control and collided with another vehicle. A third vehicle then struck the wreckage. Police say speed and heavy, wet snow were fact

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. The storms spawned at least two tornadoes in Pennsylvania. One damaged dozens of homes and barns and levelled an Amish schoolhouse with 160-km/h winds as it carved a path of destruction over a 8-km stretch of rural eastern Lancaster County.

The National Weather Service also confirmed that a tornado touched down near Wyalusing in Bradford County, where several buildings were reported damaged.

A crew was already at work Thursday rebuilding the Amish schoolhouse, which roofer Derek Cummings said looked like it had been hit by a bomb. He said it was hoped the 110-square-metre, one-storey school could be rebuilt in a week. Emergency management officials said they had no reports of deaths or injuries.

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.

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 as a tornado that forecasters later said had winds of 225 km/h tore through the park. Two people were killed there, and 31 injured people were taken to area hospitals, St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin 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."

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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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This story has corrected a word in the 4th paragraph to 'tornado,' instead of 'funnel cloud.'



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