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Haslam tours tornado damage in Tennessee

BY ERIK SCHELZIG Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn. - Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he is impressed by the resiliency of Lincoln County residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by a tornado earlier this week.

Haslam surveyed the damage to homes and a school by helicopter and on foot, telling reporters afterward that he was struck by the "horrible destructive nature of this and the randomness" of the tornado.

"You'd see one house destroyed and another house 50 yards away, where not a shingle had been overturned," he said.

Two people were killed in the storm that hit the largely rural area near the Alabama line Monday evening. Officials say at least 35 homes were destroyed.

Haslam said he visited the area to "express our sympathy to the families who lost two loved ones and all the other people who have seen their lives turned over end due to the destruction of the storm."

Haslam said the state is estimating the damage to homes and businesses to apply for federal disaster relief.

Wanda Shelton, the county's director of schools, told Haslam that despite extensive damage to South Lincoln Elementary School, the building can be saved. While that work proceeds over the summer, students will attend another nearby school in shifts.

"The sooner we get to some level of normalcy the better," she said.

Across the street from the school, the governor visited a house with extensive damage where an RV had been tossed into a pool. Homeowner Randy Cowley told the governor there had been an outpouring of support from family, friends and volunteers.

"He said, 'I'm doing great - we feel fortunate to be healthy and alive,'" Haslam said. "And everything else can be fixed."

The National Weather Service has set a preliminary rating of EF-3 for the tornado, meaning the twister had winds of between 136 mph and 165 mph.

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