A man casts aside bricks while searching in the rubble of a house destroyed by a tornado in the town of Vilonia, Arkansas. REUTERS/Angie Davis
On a second day of ferocious storms that have claimed at
least 19 lives in the southern United States, a tornado tore
through the Mississippi town of Tupelo causing widespread
destruction to homes and businesses.
At least one person was killed in the city of about 35,000 in
the northeast of the state and the birthplace of Elvis
Most of the deaths from the violent storms occurred on Sunday
when tornadoes tossed cars like toys in Arkansas and other
Monday's twister went through the north and west of Tupelo at
about 3pm (local time), damaging hundreds of homes and
businesses, downing power lines and toppling trees, according
to the National Weather Service.
"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
"It's a very serious situation," said 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
Main roads in and out of Tupelo were closed and the city
announced a 9pm curfew. Some residential areas were closed
off as emergency crews checked downed power lines and gas
Residents whose homes were destroyed took 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
"Three trees fell on her house, one which flattened my car
port and two cars and almost every big tree in her
neighborhood was felled," Bristow said.
"I haven't seen a house yet that doesn't have a tree through
it or on it, so it's bad," she added.
Social security worker Adrian Brim described receiving a text
message from her teenage sons who were home with her husband
that said, "the house is shaking" as the twister passed.
"I was just praying God would take care of them," she said.
The house survived with roof and fence damage, she said.
Another woman, Reginia DeWalt said she was awakened when the
tornado went by. "It sounded like a big pressure washer - but
worse," she said.
Parts of Alabama, western Georgia and Tennessee also were at
risk as the storm system that produced the series of
tornadoes headed east toward the Mid-Atlantic states.
Rescue workers, volunteers and victims have been sifting
through the rubble in the hardest-hit state of Arkansas,
looking for survivors in central Faulkner County where a
tornado reduced homes to splinters, snapped power lines and
Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said at least 15 people had died
statewide in the storm that authorities said produced the
first fatalities of this year's US tornado season. He
previously told a news conference 16 had been killed but
later said there was a mistake in calculation.
Nine of the victims on Sunday came from the same street in
the town of Vilonia, with a population of about 4,100, where
a new intermediate school set to open in August was heavily
damaged by a tractor trailer blown into its roof. A steel
farm shop anchored to concrete was erased from the landscape.
Beebe told reporters of the capricious nature of tornadoes.
He said a woman died when the door of her home's reinforced
safe room collapsed, while a father and three daughters
survived by seeking shelter in a bathtub that was flipped
over in winds that leveled the house.
The Arkansas National Guard was deployed to sift through the
wreckage. Beebe declared a state of disaster for Faulkner and
two other counties.
One person was killed in neighboring Oklahoma and another in
Iowa, state authorities said.
A tornado in Baxter Springs, Kansas, that touched down on
Sunday evening destroyed as many as 70 homes and 25
businesses and injured 34 people of whom nine were
hospitalized, state and county officials said. One person was
killed in Kansas, likely due to the same storm system,
'LONG ROAD TO HEALING'
"Everything is just leveled to the ground," Vilonia resident
Matt Rothacher said. "It cut a zig-zag right through town."
Rothacher was at home with his wife and four children when
the tornado passed through. While his home survived, The
Valley Church where he serves as pastor was flattened.
Two elementary school-aged boys died in their home after
having a pizza dinner at a friend's home, said Rothacher, who
was helping provide grief counseling to the family that had
sent the two boys home after they finished their meal as the
The home that the boys left survived the tornado. The home
the boys returned to did not, Rothacher said.
"These homes, these lives, won't be put back together any
time soon. It will be a long road to healing for these
The White House said President Barack Obama, who has been on
a trip abroad, called Beebe to receive an update on the
damage and to offer his condolences.
Medical officials reported at least 100 people in Arkansas
"It's so heartbreaking. I've never seen destruction like this
before," U.S. Representative Tim Griffin told reporters after
touring Vilonia, which was previously hit by a tornado about
three years ago. "I saw a Dr. Seuss book in the rubble. I saw
a Spider-Man shirt in the rubble. It just breaks your heart."
The roar of heavy equipment filled the air in Vilonia and
nearby Mayflower as crews worked to clear debris off the
streets or to load rubble onto trucks for removal.
The National Weather Service said the threat of tornadoes
will last for several days as a strong weather system
interacts with a large area of unstable air across the
central and southern United States.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory declared a state of
emergency for four counties where tornadoes hit on Friday and
warned that more rough weather was on the way.