VALE, N.C. -- Yolanda Corona prayed she wouldn't die.
She was watching television with 10 relatives when winds from a massive storm tearing across the U.S. roared through her neighborhood.
The windows blew out of the living room. The chimney caved in. A tree plunged through the roof.
The family huddled in a back bedroom, whispering prayers, crying and holding each other. Somehow, they survived.
"We thought we were going to die. We were just so scared. We didn't have time to do anything. We all just listened and prayed for our lives," Jessica Vargas, Corona's 18-year-old granddaughter, recalled Wednesday, looking at the family's possessions, which had been strewn around their muddy yard the night before. No one was seriously hurt, but now the family must find somewhere to live.
The rare, fast-moving storm that destroyed their home also brought winds up to 81 mph, rain and tornadoes that started in the Midwest on Tuesday and continued Wednesday, moving into the southern and eastern U.S.
In suburban Chicago, Helen Miller, 41, was hurt when a branch fell about 65 feet from a large tree, crashed into her car and impaled her stomach. Doctors removed the branch and Miller's husband said she asked him to hang on to it.
"She wants to save it for an art project or something," Todd Miller told the Chicago Sun-Times. "She's a bit of a free spirit, so I ran with it."
The National Weather Service confirmed that eight tornadoes touched down in Indiana Tuesday, but that no serious damage or injuries were reported. Ohio saw four twisters, including one with gusts of at least 111 mph that ripped through a village in the northwest part of the state, destroying several homes. Another flattened a barn and carried a large windmill 40 yards.
Pat Tanner, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Greer, S.C., said a cold front is moving east and meeting warm, moist air causing instability in the atmosphere and spawning the storms.
In Chattanooga, Tenn., an apparent tornado on the Chickamauga Dam caused an accident that led to the closure of the highway and injured several people. Tornadoes also whirled through Racine County, Wis., where two people were injured when a section of roof was torn off a tractor factory, and Peotone, Ill., where three people were injured when a home's roof came off.
The storm brought heavy snow and winds up to 60 mph to the Dakotas for a second day Wednesday, toppling signs, power lines and trees. Most of the snow, about 8 inches, was reported in central North Dakota, and travel in much of the state was difficult.
"The weather is not very nice out here. The winds are picking up and it's very snowy, very slick," said Linnea Reeves, a Walmart employee in Bismarck.
In Iowa, winds gusted to more than 50 mph in some places Wednesday, overturning semis on a highway and knocking down power lines.
Tornado watches and warnings were issued across the Southeast and into the Northeast.
In North Carolina, at least 11 people were hurt by the winds that destroyed Corona's home, but none seriously.
"We just thank God that everyone is safe," said Corona, who had some cuts on her leg.
Nearby, Douvhen Hanby was in his backyard when he saw the fast-moving funnel cloud head toward his house. He scrambled inside and yelled for his wife and four children to "hit the floor" in the living room. Seconds later, the house began shaking.
When the winds died down about two minutes later, the family -- and their home -- were more or less fine. Hanby ran to the next door to a neighbor's mobile home, which had been shredded.
He dug through the rubble with his hands, looking for the woman and four children. He found them curled up in a ball under some pieces of tin.
"They were scared, shaking. Then when it hit them they were alive, they started crying," he said.
About a mile away, Jack Hambrick, was watching TV when he saw that a line of thunderstorms and possible tornadoes were heading in his direction. When he heard the winds whip up outside his home, told his wife and daughter to head to a back bedroom for safety. But he didn't make it. The house shook and he dropped to the floor in the living room. The furniture began swirling in the room and he kept his head down. "I just wanted them to be OK."
They were, but when it was over a few minutes later, his roof and most of his walls were gone. The house was ruined.
"What are you going to do? I have a skylight," he joked.
But then he turned serious.
"We were lucky," he said. "Very lucky."
Associated Press writers Karen Hawkins and Carla K. Johnson in Chicago; Tom Davies in South Bend, Ind.; Doug Whiteman in Cleveland, Ohio; Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee; Sofia A. Mannos in Washington, D.C.; and Blake Nicholson in Bismarck, N.D., contributed to this story.