'It's Not a Baby Doll -- It's Alive'

More than 60 tornadoes were reported in the Southern states on Tuesday and Wednesday, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds. President Bush flew to Tennessee, one of many states consequently suffering, to meet with survivors on Friday.
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 7, 2008

CASTALIAN SPRINGS, Tenn., Feb. 6 -- The searchers had already gone over the field once.

It seemed unlikely that anything else would turn up. It was dark and rainy, and amid the awesome wreckage left by the tornado that had just passed here they had already found three dead. Some of the bodies had been flung hundreds of feet from their homes, landing in tangles of branches and across the roadway.

Then they stumbled upon Kyson.

The 11-month-old, dressed in a T-shirt and diaper, was lying as silently as any piece of debris in a field of tall grass about 100 yards from the now-leveled duplex where he once lived. He was face down in the mud, covered in bits of grass like many of those who had been cast about by the dozens of tornadoes that had careened across the South.

"It's not a baby doll -- it's alive," called out David Harmon, 31, an emergency worker from nearby Wilson County. He had first thought the boy was made of plastic.

Kyson, to the surprise of rescuers, had survived being tossed by winds that had not only flattened the brick post office next door but had killed his 23-year-old mother, throwing her several yards in the opposite direction, into some fallen trees.

"The baby was just shivering like this," said Keith Douglas, interim director of emergency medical services for Sumner County, who was on the scene, putting his fists to his chest, pressing his elbows to his sides. "He was cold and scared, and he had this blank look in his eyes."

The twister that flung Kyson from his home was among dozens that swept across the South on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, killing at least 54 people and leaving a huge swath of destruction. The winds caused millions of dollars in damage and injured more than 150 people. President Bush is scheduled to travel to Tennessee on Friday to inspect the damage.

For those who have lived through them, tornadoes inspire awe not just for their power but for their caprice, for destroying some lives while sparing others nearby.

"It's a miracle they ain't both gone," said Doug Stowell, 45, Kyson's grandfather, a carpenter and tile worker who drove up to the scene last night and found his daughter, Carrie, dead and his grandson alive. "He was found over 300 feet from his home, and that was demolished -- I mean wiped clean."

Such devastation was repeated in five states, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, as perhaps 50 tornadoes touched down. Others were reported in Missouri and Indiana.

After sowing destruction in the South, the storm system moved north, where it buried parts of Wisconsin, Iowa and Kansas under more than a foot of snow. The storm closed schools and businesses, grounded more than 1,000 airline flights and snarled highways.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company