"You kind of stop and realize what Christmas is all about," says Barbara Perkins. The newly homeless Mississippian is happy just to be alive—especially after learning two of her neighbors died in the storm. The unseasonably violent weather that spawned deadly tornadoes Wednesday in the Southeast forced families to spend Christmas Eve taking stock of their losses. At least 14 people were confirmed dead—seven in Mississippi, including a 7-year-old boy who perished in a car that was swept up and tossed by storm winds. Six people were killed in Tennessee and one in Arkansas. Dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed. In Columbia, Tenn., those killed included three people who were found in a car submerged in a creek; the victims were a 19-year-old female and two 22-year-old males.
Unseasonably warm weather Wednesday helped spawn twisters from Arkansas to Michigan. The line of springlike storms continued east Thursday, dumping torrential rain that flooded roads in Alabama and caused a mudslide in the Georgia mountains. Dozens of people were injured, some seriously, said a rep for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Search teams combed damaged homes for people still missing, a hunt made complicated because so many had left for the holidays. In Benton County, Miss., Daisy Johnson, 68, said she and her husband rushed with other relatives to their storm shelter. "We looked straight west of us, and there it was. It was yellow and it was roaring, lightning just continually, and it was making a terrible noise," she said. "I never want to hear that again for as long as I live." (Read more severe weather stories.)