ADAIRSVILLE, Ga. — For Darleen Evans, it was sheer terror as the manufacturing plant where she worked collapsed around her and her colleagues. She and two other women rushed into a bathroom stall, she holding one under each arm as she prayed, a tornado roaring overhead.
She tearfully recalled their survival as nothing short of a miracle: “If it wasn’t for God, this company and these people wouldn’t be here.”
On two occasions, tornadoes have ripped through the Daiki Corp. steel manufacturing plant that employs more than 90 people in this small community. Both times, everyone inside escaped serious injury.
The sprawling facility won’t be reopening anytime soon after the storm that hit Wednesday, however: Most of it has been reduced to a pile of rubble, little more than mangled beams and twisted steel. The first time, in 2002, a tornado tossed the roof into the parking lot. Ventilation fans, ductwork and wiring were torn away.
Several media outlets aired dramatic video Wednesday showing a massive funnel cloud roaring through Adairsville, a town of about 4,600 some 60 miles northwest of Atlanta.
Three people died because of the massive storm system that marched across the U.S. — tornadoes killed one each in Tennessee and Georgia, while floodwaters killed a third in Maryland. While most came away with their lives, many lost their homes and were left with little else a day later.
Tens of thousands were without power at the storm’s peak as a cold front sent what had been unseasonably high temperatures plummeting to near-freezing depths. Dangerous wind blanketed the nation’s midsection, with subzero temperatures and wind chills recorded in the Dakotas. In Detroit, icy roads were blamed for a massive chain reaction wreck involving about 30 vehicles on Interstate 75. At least three people died there, and another pileup involving more than 40 vehicles near Indianapolis closed a stretch of Interstate 70 in both directions.
Others closely watched rivers swollen by torrential rains, and officials opened flood gates to ease pressure on dams in Maryland. Hundreds were evacuated to higher ground.
In Anne Arundel County, one person apparently drowned in a flooded camp where homeless people live in tents, said police Lt. T.J. Smith.
Ernest Moran said he lives at the site with about 15 other people. He awakened yesterday morning to find “a swamp,” he said, and escaped with only his dog and a knapsack.
Near the nation’s capital, at least one motorist had to be rescued because of flash floods. In New England, powerful winds were the main problem as gusts topping 60 mph in some areas caused widespread power outages.
The tornadoes Tuesday and Wednesday broke the nation’s longest break between tornado fatalities since detailed records began being kept in 1950, according to the Storm Prediction Center and National Climatic Data Center. The last one was June 24 in Florida. That was 220 days ago as of Tuesday.
Winter tornadoes are not unheard of: In January 2012, at least two tornadoes ripped across Alabama, killing two people and wiping out scores of homes and businesses. Warm air from the Gulf of Mexico can collide with cold air inland, creating the sort of instability that spawned this week’s tornadoes.
National Weather Service meteorologist George Wetzel said the storm that tore through Adairsville was a high EF3 in strength, creating winds of more than 100 miles per hour. An EF5 is the strongest tornado category.