A tornado cut a swath of destruction through the outskirts of Lawrence, Kansas, on Tuesday evening, injuring 18 people and briefly shutting down Kansas City International Airport due to damage from debris picked up by the vortex and carried up to 40 miles, officials said.
The National Weather Service confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that the Kansas twister rated an EF4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, one notch below the most powerful ranking of tornadoes. The menacing funnel cloud packed peak winds of 170 miles per hour and cut a nearly 32-mile long path of destruction that measured a mile at its widest point, the weather service reported.
While it caused widespread damage to homes and businesses, there were no fatalities.
Confirmation of the destructive twister came as the NWS issued new tornado watches on Wednesday for parts of Arkansas, Texas, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia. Some 85 million Americans were under the threat of severe weather, according to the NWS.
Tuesday marked the 12th consecutive day in which eight or more tornadoes were reported throughout the country, according to the NWS.
And it wasn't just the heartland that was left in shambles. A powerful EF1 funnel cloud slammed Atlantic County, New Jersey, Tuesday night, downing trees and power lines, leaving residents with frayed nerves and rattled windows. Parts of Pennsylvania were also hit by an EF2 tornado packing winds of at least 111 miles per hour.
The NWS issued a "tornado emergency" alert for parts of eastern Kansas on Tuesday night as dangerous weather touched down in the area.
Brian Christenson, the mayor of Linwood, Kansas, a suburb of Lawrence, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Wednesday that while multiple residents in his city of nearly 400 people lost homes, no one was killed and everyone was accounted for.
"I've never seen anything like it," Christenson said. "It just picks one house randomly and takes it away, and the next house might not even get touched. The way it moves and picks and chooses, it's incredible."
Christenson said he and the bulk of people in his town heeded the early-warning sirens and alerts and sought shelter before the funnel cloud reached them.
"I've lived in the same home for 22 years," the mayor said. "This was the first time I've ever actually went to my basement for shelter."
But even those who rode out the storm in basements walked away with their lives -- but not much else.
"There's a friend of mine that was in their basement and there's nothing left," Christenson said. "It took the house, the carpet off the floor. Everything is gone."
Police in Lawrence, the home of the University of Kansas, said a massive tornado left large trees, power lines and debris along the streets, making some major roads impassable. Eighteen people suffered mostly minor injuries in the town and adjacent communities, officials said.