The ongoing threat of dangerous tornadoes was forecast from Florida up to the Mid-Atlantic Wednesday — part of a storm system that has killed at least three people, demolished homes and left tens of thousands without power.
Tornado watches were in effect across parts of Florida and Georgia overnight, while damaging high winds were possible all the way from the Gulf Coast up to parts of the Northeast.
A total of 30 twisters were reported Tuesday, the National Weather Service said, including one that traveled around two miles in Pensacola, Florida, smashing into an apartment complex at about 8:15 p.m. ET.
"It's just a war zone," said city resident Shawn Brown, 34. "There's just bits and pieces of things all over, trees are shredded, cars are tossed everywhere. It's just bad. There's lots of trees down. Lots of cars flipped and there are a couple of houses that are completely flattened."
The father-of-two said he had "never seen anything like that."
"All the sudden, I heard this noise, it was faint but rumbling, and then the pressure came and you could feel it in your ears," he said. "We're alive and that's all that matters."
At least 24 units at the Moorings apartment complex were left uninhabitable but remarkably there were no serious injuries, according to Escambia County Fire Rescue captain Craig Ammons.
Robbie Harvey, who went to search the apartment block, said he was "surprised nobody is dead."
"We just got done searching a house and the only thing standing is a front wall," Harvey added.
Tiffany Hudson, who lives in the Moorings complex, said: "We knew there was a storm coming but we didn't know it would be this bad. So the lights started flickering. I guess it just bounced right over us and hit the buildings next to us."
Almost 7,400 customers were without power in the Florida with almost 25,000 in the dark in Georgia, along with 14,000 others in Louisiana and 12,000 in Alabama, utility companies reported beginning at 5 a.m. Wednesday.
As of 10:15 a.m., Illinois saw more than 29,000 outages and Missouri over 39,500 outages, with the St. Louis area getting the bulk of the reports.
Two people were killed earlier as a tornado touched down near the Sugar Hill RV Park northwest of Convent, Louisiana. At least 30 people were treated at hospitals, seven of them in critical condition, said Brandon Keller, a spokesman for the St. James Parish Sheriff's Office.
A third person was killed in Lamar County, Mississippi, county Coroner Cody Creel told NBC News, identifying the man as Harris Dale Purvis, 73. The National Weather Service said radar indicated a possible tornado at the scene, where a mobile home was destroyed.
The same system was also expected to cause heavy snow in the Midwest Wednesday as it met colder air from Canada.
"In St. Louis, Chicago and areas almost as far as Detroit there could be 6 to 12 inches if not 18 inches of snow," Weather Channel lead forecaster Kevin Roth said. "During the daylight hours the temperatures should be around the freezing mark but once the sun goes down there could be icy patches and certainly snow on the roads."
The tornado threat in the Southeast will be mainly over by about 8 p.m. Wednesday as the storm system moves on, he said. "It's still a formidable tornado threat for February. The wind threat is pretty high and it will be very blustery all the way up to the Northeast," Roth added.
More than 1,000 flights were canceled in and out of Chicago's two major airports as of Wednesday morning, with dozens of other flights at O'Hare and Midway airports delayed, according to FlightAware.com.
Dozens of schools in the Chicago area and northwest Indiana also closed Wednesday, while all of the St. Louis public school system shut down because of the weather.