Around the Nation
11:47 am
Wed May 23, 2012

In Central U.S., Fears Storms Will Continue

More than a dozen people died after violent storms swept across Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas, unleashing tornadoes and high winds just days after a massive twister razed much of a Missouri city.

In Oklahoma, hardest hit by the storms that struck Tuesday night and early Wednesday, officials said nine people, including a child, were killed when several twisters touched down in Oklahoma City and its suburbs. At least 70 other people were in critical condition.

The storms killed two people in Kansas before moving eastward and killing four others in Arkansas. The system was centered over Missouri, Arkansas and Illinois on Wednesday afternoon and moving eastward into Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and northern Mississippi. Heavy rain and strong winds were forecast for most of the region.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for parts of Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday — saying that storms such as one approaching the city from the south have a history of producing funnel clouds. A twister reportedly passed over Kansas City, touching down instead 90 miles to the east in Sedalia, where some damage was done to homes and businesses. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Tornadoes were reported in the Oklahoma towns of El Reno, Piedmont, Guthrie, Goldsby, Stillwater and Chickasha. Search dogs were called in to look for survivors after a twister hit Canton, but no injuries were confirmed in the rural town.

The storms destroyed homes in Piedmont, some 20 miles northwest of Oklahoma City, and threw vehicles about like toys tossed from a stroller. NPR's Cheryl Corley described the scene as "smashed houses, smashed cars and broken tree limbs."

Piedmont Mayor Valerie Thomerson said Wednesday that she had toured the area to survey the damage.

"My husband and I were driving around yesterday and went past a house and there was a vehicle in the pond in the front yard," she said. "The only way I could tell it was a vehicle was I could see four wheels above the water. It was a crushed ball.

"We have anything from houses that have shingles blown off to half the house missing to the house being completely wiped out, gone," she said.

In Chickasha, 25 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, a 26-year-old woman died when a tornado hit a mobile home park where residents had been asked to evacuate their trailers, Assistant Police Chief Elip Moore said. He said a dozen people were injured and that hundreds were displaced when the storm splintered their homes.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin toured areas of devastation near Oklahoma City on Wednesday and later made a disaster declaration.

"Unfortunately, this event will likely continue for some time," Fallin said. "I am asking all Oklahomans to stay aware of the weather and to take proper precautions to keep themselves out of harm's way."

Meanwhile, survivors recovered whatever they could find.

Susan Michael of Piedmont said she hunkered down in a shelter Tuesday evening as a tornado roared through. When she and five others emerged, they found little aside from debris.

Michael said her neighbors' houses were flattened, while a few still had a wall or two standing. Cars were "flipped and mangled" and debris was scattered across a field, she told NPR.

But amid the destruction, Michael said, her son found "the weirdest thing ... four of his guitars still in good condition." They lost nearly everything else.

"We'll be good," Michael said. "We got a lot of friends and relatives that care — they'll take care of us. We prayed and we made it through."

As many as 45,000 people in Oklahoma were left without power after the storms.

Some residents said they had been warned about the impending weather for days and were watching television or listening to the radio so they would know when to take cover.

"We live in Oklahoma, and we don't mess around," Lori Jenkins told The Associated Press. "We kept an eye on the weather and knew it was getting close."

The storm system, which brought winds of more than 150 mph, also claimed three lives in Arkansas.

In western Arkansas, just outside the tiny community of Denning, winery owner Eugene Post listened from his porch as a tornado barreled toward his home. He saw the lights flicker as the storms yanked power from the community.

"I didn't see anything," Post, 83, said early Wednesday. "I could hear it real loud though. ... It sounded like a train or two or three going by."

Department of Emergency Management spokesman Tommy Jackson said one person died in that tornado early Wednesday, and another was killed in Bethlehem, Johnson County. Franklin County's chief deputy sheriff, Devin Bramlett, said early Wednesday that a third person died in Etna.

"I don't know, it's just unbelievable," said Rick Covert, deputy emergency management coordinator for Franklin County. "It's just total devastation."

A rural fire station in Franklin County was left without a roof as emergency workers rushed to the wounded. Downed trees and power lines tossed across roadways also slowed search-and-rescue crews' efforts.

In Kansas, police said two people died when high winds threw a tree into their van around 6 p.m. Tuesday near the small town of St. John, about 100 miles west of Wichita. The main highway was shut down because of storm damage.

The storms also blew through North Texas, but the damage seemed to be confined to roofs, trees, lawn furniture and play equipment.

"The hail was probably more destructive," said Steve Fano, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Fort Worth.

Red Cross spokesman Jim Rettew said the organization was providing relief supplies to storm-struck areas: food, water, shelter and emotional support. He said the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency planned to provide damage assessments for victims.

"We will actually go to their homes, see what was damaged and provide some financial aid," Rettew said.

With reporting from NPR's Cheryl Corley and Michael Cross of member station KOSU. Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.

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