Tornado Threat Looms Large in Storm-Rattled Midwest and South

PHOTO: Relatives of Melissa Beaty console each other while looking at the home where she was killed, after a tornado touched down in Cumberland County, Tenn., Feb. 29, 2012.
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Stronger twisters and extreme weather are expected today to again hit the areas of the Midwest and South rattled earlier this week by 33 confirmed tornadoes that left 13 people dead.

A large area of the country stretching from the Ohio Valley into the deep South was currently under threat of severe weather early this morning. Thursday was a relatively quiet day for severe weather in the area, with only eight reports of damaging winds and/or severe hail, all reported in parts of Alabama and Georgia.

Though it was relatively quiet overnight, the first storms could pop up around daybreak in the St. Louis area, according to Rich Thompson, lead forecaster with the National Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

The National Weather Service has indicated a moderate risk of severe thunderstorms for the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys. These storms are be capable of producing winds of 75 miles per hour, large hail and long-lived significant tornadoes, according to the NWS.

"That area centered on Tennessee and especially Kentucky looks like it has the potential for some rather long track, what we call super cell storms or tornadoes along and ahead of a cold front," Thompson said.

"And if that actually occurs this would be the type of scenario where we could have some fairly strong longtrack tornadoes," he added. "Today actually has the potential to cause even more problems than just two days ago."

PHOTOS: Severe Weather Pummels the Midwest

Authorities in a wide swath of the Midwest continued Thursday to look for more tornado victims. Over 300 reports of severe weather in the last 36 hours included golf ball size hail and damaging thunderstorm winds gusting over 80 mph.

Moving from Nebraska, across Kansas and Missouri and into Illinois, a twister struck the small town of Harrisburg, Ill., population 9,000, where it killed six residents -- four women and two men -- according to Lt. Tracy Felty of the Saline County Sheriff's Office.

Just before 5 a.m. Wednesday hurricane force winds slammed into Harrisburg, 50 miles southwest of Evansville, Ind., shredding homes and lifting entire buildings off foundations while carving a two mile path of destruction approximately two football fields wide.

Residents across the seven states where tornadoes touched down over this week -- Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee, and Indiana – are digging out and sharing their stories of surviving the storms that included the EF4 -- the second-highest rating given to twisters, which can see peak winds of 170 mph.

In Harveyville, Kan., Brian and Heather Norton's daughter was trapped after her bedroom ceiling collapsed.

"I was down in the basement and I'm screaming at him -- grab her, grab her, just grab her, " Heather Norton said.

"I pulled her out from under it. We went down to the basement and all the water started running through the floor. It sounded like a train," Brian Norton added.

Ferocious winds slammed Branson, the country music mecca, destroying a theater and sucking furniture out of this downtown Hilton hotel. The storm his at the height of the town's crucial tourist season.

The final casualty count in Branson still remains unclear as sheriff officers moved from house to house to search for victims. At least 32 people were treated for injuries in at least one local hospital.

One person was killed in a trailer park in Buffalo, Mo., and 13 others were injured, while two more were reported dead in the Cassville and Puxico areas, according to The Associated Press.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon issued a state of emergency order Wednesday morning and shelters for displaced residents were opened throughout the state.

In Tennessee, three people died as the storms destroyed homes in Cumberland and Dekalb Counties, the AP reported.

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