PARIS, Tenn. - Severe thunderstorms rolled across the nation's midsection late Tuesday, producing funnel clouds that tore off roofs and destroyed or damaged buildings in at least four states.
Tornado touchdowns were spotted in 12 counties in western and central Tennessee, with some of the worst damage occurring in Henry County, about 90 miles west of Nashville.
"Numerous homes there were damaged, some completely destroyed," said Faye Scott, spokeswoman for the Henry County Sheriff's Department. "It's major destruction."
Funnel clouds were also sighted in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries, and the National Weather Service could not immediately confirm the tornados.
A tornado made a direct hit on Henry County's emergency management center, forcing authorities to relocate to another building to handle the disaster, County Mayor Brent Greer said.
The county medical center treated 13 people with injuries, mostly cuts and bruises, hospital spokeswoman Sandra Sims said.
The storm also ripped the roof off the main shop at the county highway department, destroyed two smaller shops and damaged a furniture manufacturer next door, Greer said.
Most of the highway department staffers were able to take cover in the basement. "We're very fortunate," Greer said.
Brenda Magee was just arriving for work at the furniture factory when the storm hit.
"We were there for about 10 minutes under tables, dust and everything swirling around," she said. "It was a big roar. We heard it hit."
Another business, Paris Industrial Services, was destroyed, but none of the employees was hurt.
"They told us just to come back tomorrow. We'll figure out things from there," employee Chad Fisher said.
Deputies in Montgomery County, northwest of Nashville, recovered a young girl in a trailer that had tumbled down a hill. She was uninjured.
"It looks like a war zone," said Ted Denny, spokesman for the county Sheriff's Department.
Police were also going door-to-door in places to check on residents.
Andy Zirkle, a spokesman for the Indiana Emergency Management Agency, said the storms destroyed at least nine homes in the southern part of the state.
"The wind was just really, really ferocious," said Julie Wilz, a desk clerk at the Red Roof Inn in Montgomery, Ind., where about 15 people took shelter during the storm. Before heading inside, she said she saw the tip of a funnel cloud.
In western Kentucky, storms leveled homes and toppled power lines. At least 22 people were treated for storm-related injuries ranging from minor cuts and bruises to head trauma, according to Jayne Barton, a spokeswoman for the Regional Medical Center in Madisonville.
In southern Illinois, high winds peeled the roofs off a church and several barns.
Meteorologists said the severe weather was the result of a cold front moving east and colliding with warm, unstable air across the central Mississippi and lower Ohio valleys.
Dan Spaeth, a weather service forecaster, said Tuesday's conditions were similar to those that produced the tornado on Nov. 6 that caused 41 miles of damage from Kentucky into the Evansville, Ind., area and killed 23 people.
The most severe damage on Nov. 6 was in a mobile home park on the eastern edge of Evansville where 19 of the victims were killed. Four other people were killed in neighboring Warrick County.
Elsewhere in the Midwest, nine tornadoes swept across central Iowa on Saturday, killing one woman.
Though severe thunderstorms and tornados are not uncommon in the fall, Spaeth said the strength of storm systems that have produced recent tornadoes suggests severe weather could lie ahead.
"It's not usually as widespread or frequent," he said. "But if it happens once, it can happen again."