TODAY   |  April 17, 2011

Deadly tornadoes rip through 7 states

At least 45 people are dead across the South and Midwest over the last three days as families start to pick up the pieces of their destroyed homes. NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren and The Weather Channel's Mike Bettes report from North Carolina.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> want to get right to that deadly tornado outbreak that began in the midwest and has now ravaged north carolina and virginia with dozens killed in seven states since thursday.

>> we know it's spring, it's tornado season , but i can't recall seeing anything like this in quite a while. an eyewitness called it a hell of a storm, an understatement as the pictures show total devastation from the twisters. 24 people have been killed in north carolina . another four in virginia. you look at this past wednesday, a total of 45 lives lost in seven states and what they are calling these super cells going through. we have complete coverage of the storm's path and devastation. we'll begin with kristen dahlgren live in raleigh , north carolina , are for us. kristen , good morning.

>> reporter: hey, good morning to you, lester . while we were standing here getting ready we noticed this hill is actually smoking now so we have a call into the fire department. just take a look at this. this isn't the driveway. this is actually the garage of this home. this is where the door was so that shows you just how far this house moved and how powerful these storms were. they came fast, furious and without warning.

>> tornado right on the ground in front of me.

>> reporter: the violent rash of tornadoes and flash floods tearing off roofs, toppling trees and pushing the three-day death toll to over three dozen.

>> very scary. very scary. i've never been in nothing like th this.

>> reporter: by saturday afternoon lewis, north carolina , was directly in the bull's eye. more than 60 twisters reported across the state as the ferocious storm system started in oklahoma thursday, barrels east with unforgettable fury. governor beverly purdue declared a state of emergency after fatalities in at least four of the state's counties.

>> we are beginning to recover from what we believe is the most widespread tornadoes we've seen since the mid-'80s.

>> reporter: at least 24 will dead in north carolina and the toll could rise again as searchers probe through shattered homes and businesses. this is all that's left of a lowe's home improvement store in sanford, north carolina . the front of the massive building flattened in the middle of a busy saturday. incredibly no one was injured. catastrophe prevented by employees who pushed customers to the back of the store after seeing what they described as a wall of churning debris baring down. while in south carolina this church collapsed with six people inside and all walked away. their church torn to pieces but this morning their faith stronger than ever. now there are thousands who are without power this morning. the red cross has opened up shelters for those who have been displaced from their homes. lester , this is the worst spring storm to hit north carolina in more than two decades.

>> kristen dahlgren for us, thanks. as we said, the deadliest storm of the year so far. the weather channel 's mike bettis is in raleigh . mike, good morning.

>> reporter: lester , good morning to you, when you take a look at the devastation it's hard to believe there were people in this neighborhood that actually survived, luckily for this home this used to be a two-story home it's collapsed and the family was not home at the time it was lifted from its foundation and into the backyard. there's debris strewn all over the front yard from this home. other homes that are across the street in the neighborhood. one thing very interesting about this home that's been pretty much completely destroyed is if you look in the driveway, there's a vehicle right there nearly untouched. this family had to have been home at the time and got their vehicles, they don't have a basement so it's good to know they weren't home at the time. we know now 105 tornado reports across the carolinas yesterday at least 24 people have lost their lives. damage like this indicative of ef-2 ef-3 damage. they tell us it's the worst tornado they've seen. they've gone through multiple tornadoes in the raleigh area over the past couple of years.

>> mike bettes , thanks very much.