NEW INFORMATION: Powerful storms, tornadoes kill 18 in 3 states

By: AP Email
By: AP Email
The tornado that hit Vilonia and nearby Mayflower would likely be rated as the nation

MGN Online

VILONIA, Ark. (AP) -- Emergency officials were searching for survivors Monday in the debris left by a powerful tornado that killed at least 16 people in Arkansas and carved an 80-mile path of destruction through suburban Little Rock.

The tornado that slammed into Vilonia, just west of the capital city, grew to about half a mile wide Sunday and was among a rash of tornadoes and strong storms that rumbled across the Midwest and South overnight. The National Weather Service warned that more tornadoes, damaging winds and very large hail would strike Monday in parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana.

"We don't have a count on injuries or missing. We're trying to get a handle on the missing part," Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said during a Monday news conference. "Just looking at the damage, this may be one of the strongest we have seen."

Brandon Morris, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, said crews were sifting through the rubble in the hope of uncovering survivors and to assess the full extent of the damage.

"Right now, the main focus is life safety," Morris said. "We're trying to make sure everyone is accounted for."

Karla Ault, a Vilonia High School volleyball coach, said she sheltered in the school gymnasium as the storm approached. After it passed, her husband told her their home was reduced to the slab on which it had sat.

"I'm just kind of numb. It's just shock that you lost everything. You don't understand everything you have until you realize that all I've got now is just what I have on," Ault said.

The tornado that hit Vilonia and nearby Mayflower would likely be rated as the nation's strongest twister to date this year, as it has the potential to be at least an EF3 storm, which has winds greater than 136 mph, National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Hood said.

"Based on some of the footage we've seen from Mayflower and where it crossed Interstate 40, things were wrecked in a very significant way," he said, adding that emergency officials were "making sure utilities are cut off in the area. We don't want anything to get, any fires to start or anything like that."

In southeastern Iowa, a woman was killed when either a tornado or powerful straight-line winds caused a farm building to collapse. Another twister killed a person in Quapaw, Okla., before crossing into Kansas, where it destroyed more than 100 homes and businesses, and injured 25 people in the city of Baxter Springs, according to Kansas authorities.

The overall death toll stood at 18 late Monday morning.

Sue McBride, a 71-year old retired sewing machinist in Baxter Springs, said she thought the tornado sirens could spell a false alarm. But then she saw and heard the twister approaching. She said debris flew all around as she ran into her home. She hunkered on her knees in her hallway with her head down as the tornado shattered her windows, spraying glass all over her.

"I didn't have one scratch on me and I was fine," McBride said from a Red Cross shelter in the city, where the tornado left a trail of shattered homes, twisted metal and hanging power lines.

The Arkansas twister shredded cars, trucks and 18-wheelers stuck along Interstate 40 north of Little Rock. After the storm passed, tractor-trailer rigs tried to navigate through the damage as gawkers captured cellphone photos of the destruction.

State troopers went vehicle-to-vehicle to check on motorists and found - with genuine surprise - that no one was killed.

"About 30 vehicles - large trucks, sedans, pickup trucks - were going through there when the funnel cloud passed over," said Bill Sadler, a spokesman for the Arkansas State Police.

Nearby Conway Regional Medical Center said it treated about 100 people injured in the storm.

Among the ruins was a new $14 million intermediate school that had been set to open this fall.

"There's just really nothing there anymore. We're probably going to have to start all over again," Vilonia Schools Superintendent Frank Mitchell said after surveying what was left of the building.

Late Sunday, emergency workers and volunteers went door-to-door checking for victims and survivors.

"It turned pitch black," said Mark Ausbrooks, who was at his parents' home in Mayflower when the storm arrived. "I ran and got pillows to put over our heads and ... all hell broke loose."

"My parents' home, it's gone completely," he said.

Becky Naylor, 57, of Mayflower, said up to 22 people "packed like sardines" into her storm cellar as the tornado approached.

"People were pulling off the highways and were just running in," said Naylor.

Men held the cellar doors tight to prevent the tornado from ripping them apart.

"It sounded like a constant rolling, roaring sound," she said. "Trees were really bending and the light poles were actually shaking and moving. That's before we shut the door and we've only shut the door to the storm cellar two times."

The other time was in 2011, during an EF-2 tornado that followed nearly the same path and killed at least four people.

"This storm was much stronger," Vilonia Mayor James Firestone told ABC's "Good Morning America" early Monday. "The devastation was just tremendous."

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management raised the Arkansas death toll to 16 early Monday - eight adults and two children in Faulkner County, five people in Pulaski County and one in White County.

At a news conference in the Philippines, President Barack Obama sent his condolences and promised the government would help in the recovery.

"Your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild as long as it takes," Obama said.

Storm ratings for Sunday's twisters were not immediately available. Before Sunday, the country had not had a tornado rated EF3 or higher since Nov. 17, a streak of 160 days, the fourth-longest on record. This also would be the latest date for a storm rated EF3 or higher. The previous latest big storm for a year was March 31, 2002.

Sunday was the third anniversary of a 122-tornado day, which struck parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia and killed 316 people.
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MAYFLOWER, Ark. (AP) --A state agency has raised the death toll from a huge tornado that cut a sporadic 80-mile path through central Arkansas to 16. One person died in Oklahoma and another in Iowa.

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management reported on its website early Monday that there are now 10 confirmed deaths from Sunday's tornado in Faulkner County. There are still five confirmed deaths in Pulaski County and one in White County.

The tornado was the largest of several spawned by a powerful storm system moving through the central and southern United States. It also formed a tornado that killed a person in Quapaw, Okla., on Sunday before moving northward into Kansas.

Residents of Vilonia, which was devastated by a tornado three years ago, huddled in the dark early Monday wondering how they would rebuild again, after the nation's strongest twister this year leveled homes and businesses in their city and others nearby.

The tornado touched down Sunday about 10 miles west of Little Rock at about 7 p.m., then carved a 80-mile path of destruction as it passed through or near several suburbs north of Arkansas' capital city. It grew to be a half-mile wide and remained on the ground for much of that route, authorities said.

"There's just really nothing there anymore. We're probably going to have to start all over again," Vilonia Schools Superintendent Frank Mitchell said after surveying what had been a $14 million intermediate school set to open this fall.

The tornado was the largest of several formed by a powerful storm system that rumbled through the central and southern U.S. Another twister killed a person in Quapaw, Okla., before crossing into Kansas to the north and destroying 60 to 70 homes and injuring 25 people in the city of Baxter Springs, according to authorities in Kansas. A death was reported in Baxter Springs, but it wasn't yet known if it was caused by the tornado, making the Oklahoma death the only confirmed death from Sunday's storms outside of Arkansas.

The tornado that hit Arkansas didn't form until night was setting in, so the full extent of the damage wouldn't be known until after sunrise on Monday. The Storm Prediction Center said more storms were expected Monday in the South and Mississippi Valley.

The Arkansas twister shredded cars, trucks and 18-wheelers stuck along Interstate 40 north of Little Rock. After the storm passed, tractor-trailer rigs tried to navigate through the damage to continue their journeys, while gawkers held smartphones to their windows to offer a grim glimpse of the destruction.

State troopers went vehicle-to-vehicle to check on motorists and said with genuine surprise that no one was killed.

"About 30 vehicles -- large trucks, sedans, pickup trucks -- were going through there when the funnel cloud passed over," said Bill Sadler, a spokesman for the Arkansas State Police.

Karla Ault, a Vilonia High School volleyball coach, said she sheltered in the school gymnasium as the storm approached. After it passed, her husband told her their home was gone -- reduced to the slab on which it had sat.

"I'm just kind of numb. It's just shock that you lost everything. You don't understand everything you have until you realize that all I've got now is just what I have on," Ault said.

The country had enjoyed a relative lull in violent weather and didn't record the first tornado death until Sunday, when a North Carolina infant who was injured by a twister Friday died at the hospital. But the storm system that moved through the Plains, Midwest and South on Sunday spawned tornadoes that struck several states, including Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa as well as Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

The National Weather Service in North Little Rock said it was virtually certain that the Mayflower and Vilonia storm would be rated as the nation's strongest twister to date this year.

"It has the potential to be EF3 or greater," said meteorologist Jeff Hood. EF3 storms have winds greater than 136 mph. "Based on some of the footage we've seen from Mayflower and where it crossed Interstate 40, things were wrecked in a very significant way."

From communities west of Little Rock to others well north of the capital, emergency workers and volunteers were going door-to-door checking for victims.

"It turned pitch black," said Mark Ausbrooks, who was at his parents' home in Mayflower when the storm arrived. "I ran and got pillows to put over our heads and ... all hell broke loose."

"My parents' home, it's gone completely," he said.

Becky Naylor, of Mayflower, said she and her family went to their storm cellar after hearing that tornado debris was falling in nearby Morgan. Naylor, 57, said there were between 20 and 22 people in the cellar and they were "packed like sardines."

"Everyone is welcome to come into it," she said. "In fact, people were pulling off the highways and were just running in."

She said the men held the cellar doors shut while the tornado's winds tried to rip them open.

"It sounded like a constant rolling, roaring sound," she said. "Trees were really bending and the light poles were actually shaking and moving. That's before we shut the door and we've only shut the door to the storm cellar two times."

The other time was during the 2011 storm.

The White House issued a statement in which President Barack Obama promised that the federal government would help in the recovery and praised the heroic efforts of first-responders and neighbors.

"Your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild as long as it takes," Obama said.

Storm ratings for Sunday's twisters were not immediately available. Before Sunday, the country had not had a tornado rated EF3 or higher since Nov. 17, streak of 160 days, the fourth-longest on record. This also would be the latest date for a storm rated EF3 or higher. The previous latest big storm for a year was March 31, 2002.

Sunday was the third anniversary of a 122-tornado day, which struck parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia and killed 316 people.

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A state official says the death toll from a tornado that tore through central Arkansas has risen to 11 people.

Matt DeCample, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe, said early Monday that Sunday night's tornado that passed through several suburbs west and north of Little Rock killed five people each in Pulaski and Faulkner counties and one person in White County.

A separate tornado from the same storm system moving through the central and southern United States killed one person in northeastern Oklahoma on Sunday.

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A powerful storm front is rumbling through parts of the Plains, Midwest and South, spawning deadly tornadoes and producing heavy rain and large hail. Numerous structures have been damaged or destroyed in several states.

A tornado killed two people in Quapaw, a small community in northeastern Oklahoma, near its borders with Kansas and Missouri. An Ottawa County sheriff's dispatcher says the twister hit the city late Sunday afternoon. There are reports there's quite a bit of damage to the north side of town. Six people have been treated at a local hospital for tornado-related injuries.

The tornado reportedly also caused extensive damage and injuries in nearby Baxter Springs, Kan., which is in the state's southeast corner near its borders with Oklahoma to the south and Missouri to the east.

A state official in Arkansas says one person was killed by a tornado that tore through central Arkansas

Tornado warnings are in effect for parts of northwest Mississippi and western Missouri. In addition to the tornado strikes in Oklahoma and Kansas and Arkansas, twisters also reportedly touched down Sunday in Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri.


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