The storms struck Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. By Wednesday morning two more areas, Georgia and New Orleans, were also under tornado warnings.
Tennessee was hit the hardest; at least 24 people died in the state when tornadoes touched down, according to emergency officials. Nearly 150 people were injured as well.
The Columbia Gulf Natural Gas pumping station, about 40 miles northeast of Nashville, was the site of a massive fire Tuesday night, according to the Tennessean newspaper Web site. Officials there weren’t sure about the cause of the fire, which started after 10 p.m.
“We do not know at this time what caused it, and we are attempting to get close enough to get some information,” said Tennessee Emergency Management spokesman Donnie Smith. “These flames are shooting 400, 500 feet in the air.”
At Union University, near Jackson, a student dormitory suffered extensive damage. Some students were trapped for some time before they could be rescued and 51 students were sent to the hospital with injuries, several serious.
“It looks like a war zone,” University President David Dockery told CNN. “Cars and trucks thrown from one side of the campus to the other.”
Arkansas was also hit hard, with the storms killing 13, including parents who died alongside their 11-year-old child in Atkins, about 60 miles Northwest of Little Rock.
The family’s home “took a direct hit” from the storm, Pope County Coroner Leonard Krout told the Associated Press.
”Neighbors and friends who were there said, ‘There used to be a home there,”’ Krout said.
By Wednesday morning emergency officials were going door to door to search for additional victims.
“It’s a pretty rough night in the scope of it. I don’t know if I can remember when we’ve had as many (tornado) warnings and touchdowns,” Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe told the Associated Press.
Seven people are confirmed dead in Kentucky, state emergency spokesman Buddy Rogers told Fox News Wednesday.
“We were preparing for the worst and we did get hit pretty hard – but it always could have been worse,” he said.
Along the Christian-Tigg County line sheriff’s deputies, rescue workers and volunteers were working to clear roads and rescue people, according to the Kentucky New Era newspaper in Hopkinsville.
“There are electric lines and transformers in the road everywhere,” Deputy Sheriff Billy Gloyd told the newspaper as he stood on U.S. 68. “It tore up some mobiles homes and a couple of houses.”
At least three people have been reported killed in Alabama, according to the Lawrence County emergency management director Brenda Morgan, the Huntsville Times reported.
The storms hit several states that were participating in the “Super Tuesday” presidential nominating events, including Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas. As word of the devastation reached the campaigns, several candidates expressed condolences for the victims of the storms.