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Ben Young and his wife, Jennifer, along with their two children, survived Wednesday's tornado after a tree fell on it and prevented it from being blown away at 2:30 a.m. in Ocoee, Tenn.

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Recovery efforts continue for tornado damaged Tennessee and Alabama

Area rescuers and residents were focusing on recovery Thursday after a spate of tornadoes left seven dead and others injured in Alabama and Tennessee overnight Tuesday.

Storms left damage in seven Tennessee and 12 Alabama counties, according to state officials. They said it's too early to know the dollar estimate of the damage.

The names of those killed in the storm still had not been released Thursday evening. The dead included two people of the Ocoee community in Polk County.

At least 20 people were injured when an EF-2 tornado touched down in Athens, Tenn., the seat of McMinn County. The brunt of the destruction occurred on County Road 307.

The National Weather Service confirmed five tornadoes touched down in Tennessee. Two twisters struck in Coffee County and another hit Marion County.

Dean Flener, with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, said the EF-3 tornado in Polk County had a peak wind speed of 140 mph. The other four tornadoes varied between EF-1 and EF-2 in strength.

State, local and mutual aid emergency responders swarmed to Polk County to help in the recovery. Emergency management officials in McMinn and Polk counties were in the field and could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The Polk tornado destroyed two significant landmarks: the Ocoee post office and the West Polk Volunteer Fire Department's station.

Polk EMA Director Stephen Lofty, who also serves as the West Polk fire chief, wasn't certain what the future would bring for the 40-year-old structure, built by the Ruritan Club.

He said that because of building code changes over the decades, insurance won't pay enough to replace the building, and private fundraising would be needed.

Dr. David Darden, Polk County medical examiner, praised the efforts of all the volunteer firefighters who came to the community's aid.

"We're good country men and women trying to help their neighbors," Darden said.

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In Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency on Wednesday and announced plans to tour several affected areas on Thursday.

"This State of Emergency will activate state agencies to assist communities in whatever way necessary, to ensure our people get the help they need," Bentley said in a news release.

The National Weather Service has logged at least 14 tornadoes so far for Alabama from the storm system. The Birmingham office has tracked eight tornado hits in central Alabama, and the Huntsville office has tracked at least six in the state's northeast corner.

"We still have survey teams out, so those numbers may change," NWS meteorologist Steve Shumway said Thursday evening.

The strongest of the six Huntsville-region tornadoes, an EF-3, hit Rosalie, Ala., he said.

Three people died there when the tornado struck a mobile home. The Jackson County Coroner's Office identified the victims as Jessica Fleming, 21; April Wright, 22; and her brother, Justin Wright, 26.

On Wednesday, family member Chris Summerford said another woman and a 4-year-old boy were at the residence, but survived.

The child suffered a fractured arm, but the woman was seriously injured, Summerford said.

"That little boy had a nail stuck in his back, but he'll be OK," he said.

At least a dozen people were hurt when the storm hit DeKalb and Jackson counties, according to Emergency Management Agency officials. The storm destroyed more than 100 buildings between the two counties.

Emergency management officials for the two counties could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@times freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.

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