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Twisters Kill Five People in Tennessee, Kentucky

March 24, 1991

SELMER, Tenn. (AP) _ Residents and volunteers cleared away wreckage of homes and businesses Saturday in the wake of tornadoes that killed five people in Tennessee and Kentucky.

″All I can remember is rolling over and over and people screaming,″ Jerry Inman said as he picked through the rubble of his used car business. ″I don’t know how any of us lived through it.″

Ten people had sought shelter from the storm in a mobile home that served as Inman’s office. The tornado left only the trailer’s twisted metal chassis.

Inman and his wife, Peggy, ended up 150 yards from the trailer’s original location. A prospective customer was killed when the twister dropped a car on him.

Inman and his wife suffered cuts and his son-in-law, Michael Sawyer, suffered head injuries. They were treated at a hospital but the others in the trailer had less serious injuries.

The tornado hospitalized 17 Selmer residents and dozens were treated for cuts and bruises.

Three other Tennessee residents also were killed, and an 11-year-old boy was killed in Kentucky when his grandparents’ mobile home was slammed against a tree.

In Minnesota, freezing rain, snow and strong winds Saturday toppled an 850- foot ice-covered television tower, hundreds of trees and power lines in the Duluth area.

No injuries were reported, but Minnesota Power reported power outages affecting thousands of homes. The outages disrupted 911 emergency telephone service in Duluth for several hours and left the weather service office temporarily without forecast information.

Tornadoes also struck parts of Iowa, northeastern Mississippi and eastern Illinois.

Inman said there was little warning that a serious storm was approaching, but people began seeking shelter in his office when it started to rain. When the rain turned violent and the wind began to roar, Inman said he yelled for everyone to hit the floor.

Thirteen businesses in the small town were damaged and five houses were destroyed, according to preliminary state figures. Twenty-five houses suffered major damage at Selmer. Five mobile homes were demolished and the town’s two high schools suffered about $500,000 in damage, said Steve Smith of McNairy County Emergency Management Agency.

About 95 percent of surrounding McNairy County was without electricity and probably will be until Monday, Smith said.

Schools will be closed until Wednesday so the buildings can be checked, he said.

Tennessee also had tornadoes reported in Montgomery, Rutherford, Stewart, Sumner, Humphreys, Henry, Wayne and Benton counties.

The hardest-hit parts of southwestern Kentucky appeared to be in the Dripping Springs and Lickskillet sections of Logan County near Olmstead.

Logan County deputy coroner Dale Shields said an 11-year-old boy who had been visiting his grandparents in their Dripping Springs mobile home died of head injuries. The grandparents remained hospitalized Saturday.

″The frame of the mobile home is literally wrapped around a tree,″ said Sherry Nash, a Russellville police spokeswoman who witnessed the tornado. She said the approaching storm sounded ″like 100 freight trains.″

In Lickskillet, a tornado destroyed the Bethany Church of Christ, built in about 1880.

″It’s all on the ground, all except one Sunday-school room standing in the back,″ said church member Nelson Lyne. ″It’s sad, but we can rebuild it. Nobody got hurt in it, that’s the main thing.″

Mike Molloy, Kentucky’s executive director of disaster and emergency services, said the Red Cross was helping with relief efforts and Mennonites from a nearby community were helping with debris removal in Allensville in Todd County.

The same cold front that spawned the tornadoes slid across the Washington- Baltimore area Saturday with strong thunderstorms, said National Weather Service forecaster Bob Melrose.

In Washington, lightning started a two-alarm blaze on the roof of a Department of Agriculture building and caused $150,000 worth of damage. More than 100 firefighters were sent to battle the flames and some offices on the top floor of the building suffered water damage, said District of Columbia fire Capt. Theodore Holmes.

Earlier, tornadoes or strong wind damaged homes and businesses in several Arkansas communities on Thursday and Friday. Four people remained hospitalized Saturday.

At Concord, Ark., the Red Cross and other volunteers served meals at the school cafeteria and from a truck. Emergency crews and volunteers worked to clear debris, remove downed trees, and repair damaged homes where possible.

″There are lots of chain saws going,″ Deborah Turner said in Concord.

Elsewhere, freezing rain, strong wind and snow toppled an 800-foot television tower, trees and power lines Saturday in the Duluth area in northeastern Minnesota. No injuries were reported.

Update hourly