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US: Massive storm snarls air traffic; spawns 26 tornadoes

A system that was pushing ferocious storm cells in a track from Alabama to the mid-Atlantic states brought tornado warnings, watches and delays at several large airports.

Tornado watches were in effect Wednesday afternoon from Mississippi to New Jersey. A tornado was confirmed in Stokes County, North Carolina, on the Virginia border, with some damage but no reported injuries, according to the National Weather Service.

Some flights heading into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport were being delayed by nearly two hours. Similar and shorter delays also were reported at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport; New York’s LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport; Philadelphia International Airport; and Newark International Airport.

The system, which spawned at least 26 possible tornadoes Tuesday, brought snow and high winds across the Midwest.

Wind advisories were posted across the Upper Midwest and sections of the Ohio Valley. Winter storm warnings — with the promise of snow — were in effect in North Dakota and Minnesota.

CNN iReporter Gretchen Pearl in Duluth, Minnesota, said the area was experiencing high winds, heavy snow and slick roads.

“It’s a very strong storm system that moved in,” Pearl said. “It’s definitely been causing a major disruption.”

Wednesday was a day of cleanup for communities in North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois. In addition to the tornadoes, some places recorded wind gusts exceeding 70 mph. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center said there were 268 reports of wind damage Tuesday.

High winds canceled hundreds of flights Tuesday — more than 500 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport alone — along with dozens more in Minnesota. The Minneapolis-St. Paul airport reduced air traffic from three runways to one for landings and takeoffs Tuesday because of high winds.

Extensive damage from the high winds, tornadoes and possible tornadoes was reported from New York and Wisconsin to the Gulf Coast, but it was most heavily concentrated in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.

Six tornadoes were confirmed in Indiana, three in Ohio and one each in Virginia, Wisconsin and Kentucky.

In Lincoln County, North Carolina, five homes were damaged and three destroyed by a possible tornado, spokesman Dion Burleson said late Tuesday. Eleven people were hurt — one with life-threatening injuries. Storms brought down trees, which took power lines with them, knocking out electricity for hundreds of residents.

Several cars were overturned in North Carolina’s Catawba County, according to the National Weather Service. Catawba emergency dispatch reported minor injuries, along with home damage.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, a possible tornado struck a fence near Chickamauga Dam and threw debris into a roadway, police said. Five people suffered injuries.

Ten to 15 homes were damaged near the town of Geraldine in DeKalb County, Alabama, said Lauree Ashcom, spokeswoman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.

A tornado smashed into a business in LaPorte County, Indiana.

Dan Hill, general manager of Hoosier Machinery Solutions, heard a weather siren and went to check.

He turned to another employee after spying an odd cloud formation outside the business door. “‘Does that look like a tornado?’ I asked. As soon as I said that, it touched down.”

The twister tore a roof off a pole barn, damaged some reconditioned recycling equipment and employees’ cars. No one was hurt. The 10 employees “all ran for [heavy] equipment and got inside,” Hill said.

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