A violent storm system that ripped apart an Alabama high school as students hunkered inside later tore through Georgia, hitting a hospital and raising the death toll to at least 20 across the Midwest and southeastern United States.
Eight students were killed when a tornado struck Enterprise High School Thursday, blowing out the walls and collapsing part of the roof, Mayor Kenneth Boswell said Friday. They were all in one wing of the school that took a direct hit, he said.
"It was in a split second that we sat down and started to cover ourselves before the storm hit," said 17-year-old Kira Simpson, who lost four friends to the storm.
As the massive storm system swept into Georgia on Friday, another tornado apparently touched down 115 miles (190 kilometers) south of Atlanta, killing at least two people and injuring an undetermined number of others, said Buzz Weiss of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
At least 42 patients were evacuated to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Putney spokeswoman Jackie Ryan said.
Six more people were killed in the town of Newton, Georgia, including a child, and several homes were destroyed, Fire Chief Andy Belinc said early Friday.
The burst of tornadoes was part of a larger line of thunderstorms and snowstorms that stretched from Minnesota to the Gulf Coast. Authorities blamed tornadoes for the deaths of a 7-year-old girl in Missouri, 10 people in Alabama and nine in Georgia, and twisters also damaged homes in Kansas.
President George W. Bush on Saturday will visit areas hit by the violent storm system. The White House said Bush would make two stops, but his destinations were still being worked out with governors in the affected states.
In all, the National Weather Service received 31 reports of tornadoes Thursday from Missouri, Illinois, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, plus a report Friday of a waterspout near Cartaret, North Carolina.
At Enterprise High School, searchers pulled the final body, a boy, from the high school's wreckage early Friday, assistant superintendent Bob Phares said.
Phares said it appeared that when the wall collapsed in the storm, the concrete slab ceiling came straight down on the students, the AP says.
School officials had moved all the students into the interior halls after the first warnings were issued in the late morning. The school planned to send students home at 1 p.m., but then a new warning surfaced, so that was delayed to 1:30 p.m., he said. The storm hit around 1:15 p.m.
Residents of the neighborhood surrounding the high school said they heard warning sirens long before the tornado slammed into the building.
"It came real fast, but they had plenty of time to get those kids out because sirens were going off all morning," said Pearl Green, whose 15-year-old niece attends the school and was hit in the head by a flying brick.
But school officials said they had no chance to evacuate earlier because of the approaching severe weather. And others said the carnage would have been greater if students had been outside or on the road when the storm hit.