Jim Burks and nine members of his family stood huddled together in the hallway of their Tennessee home as deadly tornadoes ripped across the South and Midwest on Sunday night.
"The wind was blowing so hard it made a screaming sound through the vents," Burks said. "There was several prayers said, and then afterwards we were all thanking Jesus for being alive. The poor people down the road, they didn't make it."
Down the road from Burks, grandparents had been baby-sitting their young grandson. They died when a tornado tore the house from its foundation, accounting for three of at least 24 victims in Tennessee and 28 across the Midwest.
Gov. Phil Bredesen called the family who lost its 11-month-old son and both grandparents. Bredesen said the father had actually gone to pick up his son, but had decided to leave him because the baby was peacefully sleeping.
"I don't know how you live with that. It's just awful," Bredesen said.
Bredesen said that more than 1,000 buildings had been seriously damaged or destroyed, and that about 75 people had been injured, 17 critically.
"Right now our interest is in taking care of the injured and offering our prayers for the families who have lost people," he said.
There have been 351 tornadoes reported since Jan. 1 compared to 110 during the same time last year.
Tornado expert Mike Seidel of The Weather Channel said the severe storm season was due to the unusually cool jet stream that was clashing with warmer, springlike temperatures as the air moved east. The result has been some of the most violent weather in recent history.
"It was one of the worst on record," Seidel said of the weekend's tornadoes. "We have to go back 20 years … to have that many severe weather reports."
More severe weather is predicted later in the week.