Deadly tornadoes lash South; 7 reported killed


by Doug Stanglin and William M. Welch / USA TODAY

Posted on April 28, 2014 at 6:12 AM

Updated Monday, Apr 28 at 10:16 PM

Deadly twisters lashed Alabama and Mississippi on Monday, killing at least seven people, as the South took a violent second-day assault from spring storms.

Six people were reported killed in Alabama and another in Mississippi on Monday, one day after tornadoes killed 17 people, most in Arkansas with one death each in Oklahoma and Iowa.

Athens, Ala., spokeswoman Holly Hollman said the Limestone County sheriff's department reported two deaths from a ttwister that hit a mobile home park west of the town. Another four people were killed from a twister southeast of the town, county commissioner Bill Latimer told The Associated Press.

State emergency management officiials said they did not have confirmation of the deaths.

In Mississippi, Lee County Coroner Carolyn Gillentine Green said a woman died when she lost control of her car at Verona, south of Tupelo, during the violent storm.

Tornado warnings were out in parts of Alabama as the line of storms headed into the northern part of the state. More than 50 school systems sent students home early ahead of the storms.

Multiple tornadoes were reported in Missisippii Monday afternoon and evening, including near Yazoo City, Lodi and Tupelo, Miss., where significant damage was visible.

"Obviously there has been storm damage. It's a very serious situation," Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton said, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported.. "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."

At least two restraurants were destroyed and a motel suffered extensive damage, the newspaper reported

Injuries were reported in Tupelo, a community of about 35,000 in northeastern Mississippi, and in Louisville, the seat of Winston County about 90 miles northeast of Jackson, Miss., where about 6,600 people live, said Mississippi Health Department spokesman Jim Craig.

A medical center in Louisville, Miss., suffered wind damage, with two walls knocked down, the Clarion-Ledger reported.

The Weather Channel reported that a twister was recorded on National Weather Service radar near Brandon, Miss., with winds of 110 m.p.h.

Forecasters said high winds, hail and possible twisters were possible Monday night in southern Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.

The dead from Sunday's storms included a father and two daughters in Arkansas's Pulaski County.

Thirty tornadoes were reported Sunday night and early Monday in seven states, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management revised the state's death toll to 14, down two from initial reports, according to KTHV-TV. A 15th death was later reported. There were also deaths Sunday in Iowa and Oklahoma.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said the death toll is likely to rise as rescue teams work through the hardest-hit areas.

That includes at least 10 people were killed in the small central Arkansas community of Vilonia, north of Little Rock, by a huge twister that ripped homes from foundations and flipped cars.

"It's chaos here," James Firestone, mayor of Vilonia, told CNN. "Our downtown area seems like it's completely leveled."

"There's a few buildings partially standing, but the amount of damage is tremendous," he said. "There's gas lines spewing. Of course, power lines down. Houses are just a pile of brick."

Beebe also said there is "huge flooding" in Clay County and other parts of the state that were spared direct hits by tornadoes.

The governor said large numbers of volunteers have poured into the hardest-hit areas. Some people, especially those hit by tornadoes in the past, threw a chain-saw in a truck and came in and started clearing limbs off highways or doing what ever was needed.

"Arkansans are resilient and they do work together," the governor said. "Neighbors help neighbors and other communities help other communities, and we are seeing that here."

The half-mile wide twister also slammed into nearby Mayflower, carving a 30-mile trail of death and destruction. The Arkansas National Guard sent 46 members to the two hard-hit towns.

"It's just devastating," Sheriff Andy Shock of Faulkner County, Ark., told KTHV-TV after surveying damage in Vilonia, which has a population of 3,800.

He said he expects the death toll to rise as rescue teams search the debris.

Among the ruins is a new $14 million intermediate school in Vilonia that was set to open this fall.

"There's just really nothing there anymore. We're probably going to have to start all over again," said Vilonia school superintendent Frank Mitchell.

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.

For the second time in three years, Colton Deason and his family escaped serious injury or death by taking refuge in an underground shelter at their Vilonia home."This one just leveled everything," he told KTHV.

The tornado, he said, destroyed his home, horses, storage shed and five vehicles — ''gone in a matter of seconds."

In Mayflower, residents have been instructed to stay off the streets and to boil their water before using. Shelters have been opened at the Mayflower high school and middle school.

In the Mayflower Plantation Subdivision alone, 60 homes sustained extensive damage, Faulkner county officials report, according to KTHV.

Mark Ausbrooks said "it turned pitch black" when the storm struck Sunday.

"I ran and got pillows to put over our heads and ... all hell broke loose," he told The Associated Press, adding: "My parents' home, it's gone completely."

Brandon Morris with ADEM said one person is confirmed dead in White County, Ark., the television station reported. At least three people were killed in Pulaski County, not five as originally reported.

Interstate 40, littered with overturned vehicles 22 miles northwest of Little Rock, was shut down in both directions. The 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.

One person was also killed in Oklahoma and one in Iowa.

A twister hit the small northeastern Oklahoma town of Quapaw, killing one person, according to Ottawa County sheriff dispatcher Kelli Soechs.

After hitting Quapaw, the tornado moved north to Kansas and hit Baxter Springs about 5 miles away. Cherokee County, Kan., sheriff's dispatcher Josh Harvey said the tornado injured several people.

Emergency officials in Iowa said at least one person was killed by a twister in Keokuk County.

A twister also hit Baxter Springs, Kan., injured at least 25 people and destroying 60 to 70 homes and 20 to 25 businesses in the city of roughly 4,200 residents, according to Cherokee County, Kan., emergency manager Jason Allison.

At a news conference in the Philippines, President Obama sent his condolences to those affected by the tornado and promised that the federal government would help in the recovery.

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

In addition to the severe weather threat, the National Weather Service warns of possible flash flooding in much of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. Some parts of Alabama and Georgia could see as much as 5-6 inches of rain over the next three days, the NWS forecasts.