"We heard a weird sound coming through, kind of a whistle," said Penny Leonard, 37, who sought shelter in the basement of a hospital Tuesday in the western Kentucky town of Madisonville. "I thank God I'm safe."
Meteorologists said a cold front moving rapidly east collided with warm, unstable air from the south on Tuesday to produce the thunderstorms that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, spawning funnel clouds and tornadoes in parts of Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Tennessee.
The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center had preliminary reports of at least 35 tornadoes in the five states, spokeswoman Peggy Stogsdill said Wednesday at the center in Norman, Okla.
It was the third outbreak of twisters this month. One tornado on Nov. 6 killed 23 people in southern Indiana, and nine tornadoes struck Iowa on Saturday, killing one woman.
Roofs of homes were caved in, walls were blown out and entire buildings were blown off foundations in parts of Madisonville on Tuesday.
One person was killed at Benton, Ky., when the storms destroyed a mobile home, said Lori King, public information officer for Marshall County Emergency Management Services.
"There is not a lot left," King said Wednesday. "The mobile home flipped off the foundation at least once but possibly several times. It caught fire shortly afterward."
Along with tornadoes, thunderstorms in Indiana produced wind of more than 100 mph and as much as 2 inches of rain, causing scattered flooding, said meteorologist Jason Puma at the weather service in Indianapolis.
A teenager was killed when her car went out of control on a flooded road and overturned east of Indianapolis, Hancock County Sheriff's Dept. Sgt. Bridget D. Foy said.
In Tennessee, even Henry County's emergency officials had to scramble for shelter when their office was struck by a tornado. They moved into an office in the courthouse in Paris, about 90 miles west of Nashville.
"Numerous homes there were damaged, some completely destroyed," Henry County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Faye Scott said. "It's major destruction."
Brenda Magee, who lives in Paris, was just arriving at work at a furniture factory when the storm system hit.
"They told us to get inside," she said. "We were there for about 10 minutes under tables, dust and everything swirling around. It was a big roar."
The Henry County Medical Center treated 13 people and admitted two with non-life-threatening injuries, said spokeswoman Sandra Sims.
In Tennessee's Montgomery County, four mobile homes, a camper and two houses were destroyed at Cunningham, just south of Clarksville.
"It looks like a war zone," said Ted Denny, spokesman for the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department.
It(the weather) was pretty fierce yesterday.