FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn. — A married couple killed in a tornado in southern Tennessee had returned to their mobile home mistakenly believing the danger had passed, a neighbor said Tuesday.
Authorities identified the victims as John Prince, 60, and his wife Karen, 44.
Tiffani Danner, whose own home across the street was destroyed, said the couple had taken refuge at Karen Prince's father's house, but returned to the mobile home after the first wave of the storm. The Princes were living there while building a new house on the property, she said.
"We pulled up, and were in shocked seeing our own home. But then we saw Karen's father, and he said 'John and Karen are gone — They didn't make it,'" Danner said.
The Princes weren't alone in thinking the worst of the weather had passed on Monday evening.
Families taking shelter in the South Lincoln Elementary School left after the first wave passed. About half an hour later a tornado struck the school, blowing out windows and taking off much of the roof, said Lincoln County Sheriff Murray Blackwelder.
"We were very, very blessed," Blackwelder said of that situation.
Darrell Haney, who lives behind the school, said he thought his community was out of the woods when TV switched back from tornado warnings to regular programming.
Then, live weather reports cut back in, warning of a possible tornado as little as a minute away from his home.
Haney quickly retrieved two grandchildren and huddled in an interior bathroom with his wife, daughter and son-in-law. Almost immediately, he said, a tree crashed into a front room where one of the children had been sleeping, and the roof was lifted off of the master bedroom.
"The house is being torn apart around you, and we're just crying out, 'God protect us,'" Haney said. "Because at that point you're totally hopeless and helpless."
His church was destroyed. The school bus he drives was heavily damaged. Still Haney, a pastor, tried to be upbeat.
"Everything's gone," he said. "But the main thing is everyone's OK, the lives are taken care of."
Sherriff Blackwelder said seven people were treated for injuries and 25 homes and a school were destroyed.
There also were widespread power outages due to a damaged transmission tower. Scattered outages were also reported in a handful of other counties. Flooding was reported in Moore and Maury counties.
The National Weather Service in Huntsville, Ala., said it made a preliminary determination that the area as hit by an EF-3 tornado but was still studying the details before making a final call.
State emergency management officials said no other county requested state assistance for severe weather, which is blamed for at least 35 deaths across the Midwest and the South.
Becca Tanner, 19, said she was in her mobile home when TV reports warned of a possible tornado approaching. She had just enough time to seek refuge in a bathroom before the home was lifted into the air and tossed dozens of yards toward the street.
"I just remember flipping and flying," she said. "I just shut my eyes and it kept going."
Tanner, who emerged with bruises but no serious injuries, was sifting through the wreckage with friends and family Tuesday.
"I just don't know where to start," she said.