Tornadoes and storms sweep central and south US
Deadly storm system continues on destructive path through states including Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa
t28 April, 2014
More lethal storms have swept the southern and central US, a day after devastating tornadoes left at least 19 people dead.
Tornados on Monday killed three people, flipped vehicles and tore through hundreds of homes and businesses in Alabama and Mississippi in a weather system so big it was visible from space.
Devastating scenes were reported in the northern Mississippi towns of Tupelo and Louisville – where TV footage showed upended cars, downed power lines and damaged buildings – as well as in Athens, Alabama, where two people were reported killed.
"It was real bad. We're trying to pull people out," Tupelo police chief Bart Aguirre told Reuters, referring to emergency crews going house to house searching damaged buildings.
"It's a very serious situation," said the Tupelo mayor, Jason Shelton. "I am just encouraging everyone to stay inside and be weather aware. There is still a very real danger of another line coming through and people still need to be inside."
Tupelo tornado damage just now. #tupelo #tornado pic.twitter.com/f0RpwhqTyf
— Tabitha Hawk (@tabithahawk) April 28, 2014
The Mississippi governor, Phil Bryant, had declared a state of emergency for the state in anticipation of Monday’s storms.
Tupelo residents whose homes were destroyed sought refuge in a Red Cross shelter at a downtown sports arena. "I heard snapping and I said ‘Get down on the floor!' And then the trees started falling over," said Moe Kirk Bristow.
Emergency officials in Alabama said a tornado caused widespread damage and one death in Limestone county and killed two people at a trailer park in Athens.
Western Georgia and Tennessee braced as the storm system moved towards mid-Atlantic states.
The National Weather Service warned of baseball-sized hail and dangerous winds.
"This is a multi-day event and today is the second day of significant tornado risk and unfortunately, probably not the last," Bill Bunting, operations chief at the NWS Storm Predictions Center, told Reuters.
Intense storms have rattled the region since Sunday night when a swarm of tornadoes drove through Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, hitting communities that are still recovering from a strong storm system that left 316 people dead in May 2011.
The largest tornado hit on Sunday around 7pm local time about 10 miles west of Little Rock, Arkansas. The twister continued for 80 miles, growing to be half a mile wide.
At least 14 people in Arkansas were killed, according to the state’s governor, Mike Beebe. At an earlier conference Beebe mistakenly said 16 people had been killed. Several of the victims were in Faulkner county, where the suburbs of Mayflower and Vilonia are considered to be hardest hit by the storm.
"It sounded like a constant rolling, roaring sound," Mayflower resident Becky Naylor told the Associated Press. "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."
More than 150 homes were destroyed in Faulkner county and the local hospital, Conway Regional Medical Center, said about 100 people were treated for injuries. Among the rubble in Vilonia was the remains of structures and homes rebuilt after the 2011 storm devastated the city. One of these structures was a new $14m intermediate school set to open in the fall. "'There's just really nothing there anymore,” said the Vilonia schools superintendent, Frank Mitchell. “We're probably going to have to start all over again.”
The US president, Barack Obama, sent his condolences to the affected communities from the Philippines where he was holding a joint press conference with the country’s president, Benigno Aquino. Obama was in the Philippines as part of a trip through Asia.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was working with local officials in the area to co-ordinate recovery and response, said the president. "Your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild, as long as it takes,” he said.
Arkansas emergency workers and volunteers were conducting door-to-door house checks because of the far-ranging destruction in rural communities and loss of power in several areas. The NWS advised emergency workers to be cautious with recovery efforts as the next round of storms loomed.
The only confirmed death outside Arkansas was in Oklahoma, though another has been reported in Iowa. A tornado killed a person in Oklahoma and then crossed into Kansas where 60 to 70 homes were damaged, according to state authorities.
A home in north-west Louisiana was heavily damaged on Monday morning, around 3.15am. A teenager in the home suffered minor injuries but the rest of the people remained safe. The storm took out power in the area and authorities were analyzing damage throughout the morning.
Officials in Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa also reported damage from the storms.