Menu

ARCHIVE

At Least 27 Killed in Midwest Storms

The death toll was expected to rise Monday after severe thunderstorms packed with tornadoes and softball-sized hail tore through six Midwestern states, leaving at least 27 dead.

In western Tennessee, 23 deaths were reported, including a family of four. In Missouri, strong winds were blamed for at least three deaths. A clothing store collapsed in southern Illinois, killing one man and injuring several others. An 11-month old in Tennessee was blown from its home and carried several feet down the street before it died.

Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes also struck parts of Iowa, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, leaving scores others injured and left destruction in their wake. The weather service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said it had preliminary reports of 63 tornadoes.

Tennessee was hardest hit, with tornadoes striking along a 25-mile path through five western counties Sunday, the National Weather Service said. State troopers sent teams into the area Monday with search dogs, Highway Patrol spokeswoman Melissa McDonald said.

Betty Sisk said she and her 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son tried to take cover but were thrown into the yard as their Newbern home was shredded by the storm.

"By the time the (tornado) sirens started going off, it was at our back door," Sisk said Monday. "I didn't hear a train sound, I heard a roaring."

She and the children ran into a closet until the twister blew their house apart and threw them into the yard, where they huddled until the storm passed. Nothing remained of Sisk's wood-frame home Monday but the concrete steps.

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said more than 1,000 buildings were seriously damaged or destroyed and about 75 people injured, 17 of them critically. He asked President Bush to declare Dyer and Gibson counties federal disaster areas.

"Our first priority is helping those impacted to get back on their feet quickly and to bring back a sense of normalcy at a time when they need it most," said Bredesen, who planned to visit the area Tuesday.

The Tennessee Valley Authority estimated that more than 18,000 customers in Tennessee and Kentucky were without power Monday.

Rescue officials in Dyer County reported 11 deaths, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Kurt Pickering said. But other reports put that number at 12. Among the dead was a baby, one of 15 people killed in Dyer County, said Coleman Foss, CEO of Dyersburg Regional Medical Center. Patty Williams of the Johnson Funeral Home identified the child as Lucas Simpson, and said his grandparents who had been babysitting him were also killed by the storm.

In Gibson County, a family of four — both parents and their two children — were among eight victims of the storm, officials said. At least 37 others are injured; 17 were hospitalized in critical condition.

"I believe to date that we have not had tornadoes as disastrous in terms of fatalities. ... I believe this is going to be one of the worst where casualties are concerned," Leanne Durn, a public information officer with Tennessee's homeland security office, told FOX News.

A disaster relief crew from the Dyer Baptist Association went out Monday distributing emergency supplies like food and water. By late morning, the team had surveyed 10 to 15 miles of damage in Dyer County, said crew member Roy Childress.

"Most of the houses, you can't count. They're just gone," Childress said

More extreme weather was expected in some regions of the country on Monday.

Severe thunderstorms are expected over parts of the Mid-Atlantic region states later Monday afternoon or into the night, according to the National Weather Service. The Storm Prediction Ceter is forecasting the development of a few tornadoes, very large hail and damaging winds over parts of the Mid-Atlantic states. Areas most likely to be hit by this weather include: Central and Eastern North Carolina, the far northern portion of South Carolina, and Southeast Virginia. There is a slight risk of severe thunderstorms from the Delaware-Maryland-Virginia area southward into northern and central Georgia.

'You Just See Total Destruction'

In Newbern, the twister carved a path through a cluster of homes near the Jimmy Dean Foods plant north of Newbern, where several victims died. The plant, which makes breakfast sausages and other food products, was also damaged, a security guard said. A line of trees were snapped off about 9 feet above the ground.

"You don't see damage. You just see total destruction," Newbern resident Gary Smith told FOX News, adding that there is nothing left of many houses in that town other than the foundations, amd many mobile homes were scattered and destroyed completely.

Chris Rimel of the Dyersburg State Gazette in Tennessee, said that even though there were warnings that the storms were coming, some people simply could not escape them.

"There were warnings, absolutely, and people took shelter," Rimel told FOX News. "It's just that the places that were hit, even if they took shelter, there was no way they could get away from that tornado."

About a half-dozen tornadoes struck Arkansas and one destroyed nearly half of the town of Marmaduke, according to a fire department official.

"There are people unaccounted for, but we don't even know if they were out of town yet," acting fire commander Chris Franks said Monday as crews prepared to sweep through the town to search for victims and survivors.

Officials limited access to the town in northeastern Arkansas because of a ruptured natural gas line.

"Almost every single structure in Marmaduke has minor to moderate damage but almost 50 percent of it is totally destroyed," Franks said. Much of the town also was damaged by a tornado in 1997.

Marmaduke Police Chief Steve Franks told FOX News the tornado "devastated" his town of 1,300 people.

"About 50 percent is just leveled," he said. "We do not have any numbers on any fatalities at this time. We don't even have a complete number on injuries. Last count was about 50. … We have no power; we have no water. All power lines are down. Every single building structure in Marmaduke has had some type of damage."

Franks added that the wind was so great, "it was picking cars up and literally sweeping them across the road."

He said although residents did receive tornado warnings, the twister was traveling northeast of Marmaduke and shifted south at the last minute, swiping the town with its tail end.

"Nobody in town sought any shelter whatsoever, it caught them by surprise," Franks said.

At Lafe, Ark., eight miles east of Marmaduke, Dean Rollings said he and two other men watched the tornadoes approach.

"We stood in the parking lot and watched the clouds spin, coming from two different directions," Rollings told The Jonesboro Sun. "Then, we could hear the roaring sound. As we stood in the door, the winds picked up debris, and we saw the other one come in another direction within minutes."

Hail 4 inches in diameter slammed right through the roof of one mobile home in Arkansas, weather service meteorologist Newton Skiles said.

About 30 miles from Newbern, a state of emergency was declared in the southeast Missouri city of Caruthersville, which was heavily damaged. Mayor Diane Sayre said there were no known deaths in the city of 6,700, but Randal Lee, a sheriff's department dispatcher, said part of the town was wiped out. An estimated 1,000 to 1,500 families were displaced, said emergency official Bill Pippins.

"We've got a damage path about a half mile wide," Pippins said.

One local FOX correspondent, April Norris, said at least four people have died in Caruthersville, where a state of emergency has been declared. Emergency workers are still looking for people who may be trapped under rubble, while survivors search for their missing loved ones.

"As you drive through the streets, it looks like a war zone … this town looks like it was put in a blender, churned up and spit out," Norris told FOX News.

"It destroyed just about everything," said Pemiscot County dispatcher Dorothy Hale.

One Kentucky county declared a state of emergency early Monday as rescue workers struggled to get to rural areas where roads were blocked by power lines and trees.

"We're concerned that there's a lot of hidden back roads that are hard to get to," said Matt Snorton, Christian County's emergency management director.

Severe thunderstorms also struck Indianapolis as thousands of fans left a free John Mellencamp concert that was part of the NCAA's Final Four weekend.

In Ohio, the storms ripped off the roof and chimney from a home in Warren County northeast of Cincinnati. Downed trees and power lines were widespread.

"In every county in southwest Ohio, there has been some type of damage," said Myron Padgett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington.

Robin Brownlee, 43, of Collinsville, was inside the K&G Clothing Store in Fairview Heights, Ill., just east of St. Louis, when the roof collapsed Sunday.

"The whole building started to shake," Brownlee told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Everyone was running and screaming. I couldn't believe it."

In mid-March, tornadoes spun off by another huge storm system killed nine people in Missouri and injured dozens in Illinois. Initial reports indicated that system was responsible for more than 100 twisters in five states from Oklahoma to Illinois, the National Weather Service said.

FOXNews.com's Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.