Powerful storms and tornadoes have killed at least 28 people in the US states of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, destroying homes, tearing roofs from schools, damaging a maximum security prison and wiping one Indiana town entirely off the map, officials say.
Local police confirmed that 14 people died as tornadoes swept across three counties in Indiana.
Twelve more died in Kentucky, with two fatalities in Ohio. Earlier, tornadoes hit Alabama, causing widespread damage.
“We are no match for Mother Nature at her worst,” said Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.
Gov. Mitch Daniels is due to visit affected areas on Saturday.
The storms – stretched across a vast part of the US Midwest – came days after another system killed 13 people.
The first deaths on Friday were reported in Indiana, where the small town of Henryville was badly damaged.
Reports of extreme damage included a roof torn off a high school.
An official from Clark County sheriff’s department described the nearby town of Marysville, Indiana – located close to Henryville – as “completely gone”.
Tornadoes have destroyed towns in Southern Indiana, including Henryville, pictured, and neighboring Marysville, which is “completely gone”
Jenn Helvering, 24, said she saw a storm cell cross the highway as she drove towards Henryville. She then came across wreckage, including an overturned tractor-trailer, alongside the road near the town.
The woman, who posted a series of images online said she saw “what seemed to be a funnel”, when driving between two storm cells.
“The weather was terrible. I suddenly saw a tornado coming towards me, I could see it swirling, then I saw one behind me. I was stuck in between two tornadoes – my dad directed me while I was driving between the two tornadoes. It was truly terrifying.”
In Salem, Indiana, a toddler was found injured in a field after tornadoes passed through, reports said before being take to a children’s hospital, where she was later identified.
A family of four were found dead in Washington County, Indiana, Sheriff Claude Combs told the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Meanwhile, in Henryville, authorities found a man dead inside his vehicle. It was the first confirmed death in Clark County.
“We’ve got total devastation in the north-central part of the county [and] widespread damage from the west to the east,” Clark County Sheriff Clark Adam told CNN.
Neighbouring Marysville was totally destroyed.
“Marysville is completely gone,” said Chuck Adams of Clark County Sheriff’s Department.
As Friday’s storms grew in intensity, the National Weather Service issued severe tornado warnings for a host of states.
By 19:30 EST tornado warnings were in effect across swathes of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana, with parts of West Virginia and Florida also under advisory.
In a strongly worded warning, the NWS said residents in the path of the Indiana storm were facing an “extremely dangerous and life threatening situation”.
“If you are in the path of this tornado… take cover immediately!” the NWS said.
Additional tornadoes were reported near Mumfordville, Kentucky and Memphis, Indiana, as well in southern Ohio.
Local TV broadcaster WHAS in Kentucky showed a storm-tracking team driving through Mumfordville, speeding away from a potential tornado as golf-ball sized hailstones fell from the sky.
As the evening progressed more details of the scale of destruction began to emerge, with officials in Kentucky and Ohio confirmed fatalities there.
Earlier this week, 13 people died after twisters swept through Missouri, Kansas, Illinois and Tennessee.
On Friday morning five people were taken to hospital and 11 houses were flattened in the town of Athens, Alabama by an apparent tornado in the Huntsville area.
More than 20 school networks in Alabama closed early on Friday because of the weather warning.
Local media reports that about 9,000 people may have lost power in the area around Huntsville.
A possible twister also hit a maximum security jail near Huntsville, although officials said inmates remained secure.
The severe weather warning will remain in place until about midnight on Friday, according to local media.
The town of Harrisburg, Illinois, was particularly badly damaged on Wednesday by the storm system.
Six residents died there, while three deaths were reported in Missouri, three in Tennessee and another in Kansas.
Powerful storms hit Alabama early this morning in an area that has not yet fully recovered from tornadoes that left the community in despair last year.
At least two people were killed and heavy damage was reported just hours after tornadoes struck portions of Arkansas, downing trees and power lines and leaving thousands without electricity there.
The predawn storms struck the Birmingham area, with the towns of Center Point and Trussville just to the northeast of the city being particularly hard hit, emergency management officials said.
The devastation prompted Alabama Governor Robert Bentley to declare a state of emergency for the entire state.
Fatalities were reported in the towns of Oak Grove and Clay, but those weren’t the only towns affected.
“Center Point was hit pretty badly,” Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency spokesman Mark Kelly said.
An emergency management spokesman told the Associated Press that more than 100 people have been injured in central Alabama by the line of storms.
Homes were flattened, windows were blown out of cars and roofs were peeled back in the middle of the night in the community of Oak Grove near Birmingham. As dawn broke, residents surveyed the damage and officials used chainsaws to clear fallen trees.
Powerful storms hit Alabama early this morning in an area that has not yet fully recovered from tornadoes that left the community in despair last year
Chief Deputy Randy Christian told the Birmingham News: “The hardest hit area at this time includes Oak Grove and Center Point through Clay and Trussville. Several homes are reported destroyed and numerous reports of injuries have come in to our call center.”
Jefferson County EMA official, Bob Ammons said: “We have major, major damage.”
Chief Deputy Coroner Pat Curry told The Birmingham News that those killed in the storms were identified as 16-year-old Christina Nicole Heichelbech of Clay, and 83-year-old Bobby Frank Sims of Oak Grove.
The Birmingham News reported that Christina Nicole Heichelbech’s body was found among debris next to her family’s pool after her house was destroyed.
Bobby Frank Sims was found dead after his entire home was flung about 200 feet away from its foundation by the force of the storms.
Oak Grove was hit hard in April when tornadoes ravaged Alabama, killing about 240 people, though officials said none of the same neighborhoods were struck again. Officials had to reschedule a meeting Monday to receive a study on Alabama’s response to the spring tornadoes.
Yasamie Richardson, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said: “Some roads are impassable, there are a number of county roads where you have either debris down, trees down, damage from homes.”
Stevie Sanders woke up around 3:30 a.m. and realized bad weather was on the way. She, her parents and sister hid in the laundry room of their brick home as the wind howled and trees started cracking outside.
“You could feel the walls shaking and you could hear a loud crash. After that it got quiet, and the tree had fallen through my sister’s roof,” said Stevie Sanders.
The family was OK, and her father, Greg Sanders, spent the next hours raking his roof and pulling away pieces of broken lumber.
“It could have been so much worse,” he said.
“It’s like they say, we were just blessed.”
In Clanton, about 50 miles south of Birmingham, rescuers were responding to reports of a trailer turned over with people trapped, City Clerk Debbie Orange said.
In Mississippi, the National Weather Service was tracking a thunderstorm to the southwest of Hattiesburg that was producing wind gusts of 40 to 50 miles per hour.
These were the latest in a series of powerful January storms to have torn through the Southeast.
On Sunday, twisters downed trees and power lines in Arkansas leaving thousands without power.
A tornado tore into an area outside of Fordyce, some 70 miles south of state capital Little Rock, damaging houses and felling trees and power lines as it moved, according to Accuweather.com.
Accuweather carried reports of five other twisters touching the ground in Arkansas, which was pelted by soft-ball sized hailstones and buffeted by winds gusting up to 70 miles per hour.
As of late Sunday, roughly 13,400 homes were without power across Arkansas as the storms intensified, according to utility provider Entergy Arkansas, Inc.