PENSACOLA, Fla. – Tornadoes and strong winds tore up buildings in two states Thursday, damaging a shopping mall, a day-care center and a church in Florida and killing two people in rural Missouri.
Another 30 people were injured in Oklahoma late Wednesday when two tents collapsed at an Oktoberfest festival.
A tornado touched down in Pensacola, damaging the city's major shopping mall, as a line of violent thunderstorms made their way across the western Panhandle on Thursday.
Eddie English Jr., a department store stock manager, said he heard the wind outside the store suddenly speed up and get louder. Then mall security guards entered the store and ordered about 200 to 300 employees and shoppers into the basement.
Lindsey Lassiter, manager of the mall's Express for Men store, said the ceiling in her store was damaged and that water was pouring in.
Escambia County sheriff's spokesman Glenn Austin said the Greater Little Rock Baptist Church's roof was damaged, as was its day-care center. But the children there had been moved to safety before the tornado struck, he said.
"They heard the warnings, grabbed the kids and followed the drill," he said.
Near the church, Leeann Franzonne said she and her 3-year-old son, Gabriel, stood on their porch and watched as the tornado formed and dipped into the nearby trees. They took shelter inside when the tornado approached.
"It sounded creepy, like a bunch of cars were driving over my house," Franzonne said about an hour later as emergency crews directed traffic through her neighborhood and worked to restore power. A section of twisted metal from the church hung over a power line in the Franzonne's yard.
Jack Cullen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mobile, Ala., confirmed that a tornado touched down shortly before noon EDT.
There were more than 7,000 people at the Tulsa, Okla., Oktoberfest when the tents collapsed at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Five of those hurt remained hospitalized Thursday, and three were in serious condition with head injuries, concussions and lacerations, said Tina Wells, spokeswoman for the Emergency Medical Services Authority.
"It's easily one of the largest medical emergencies we've had in Tulsa in nearly a decade," Wells said.
The storm packed hurricane-force gusts ranging from 65 mph to near 90 mph, said Steve Piltz, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tulsa. He said Tulsa County was under a tornado watch and severe thunderstorm warning when the storm hit the tents, but Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor said that less than an hour earlier the skies had been clear.
"The wind came up incredibly quick and I don't think anyone can prepare for those kinds of winds," said Michael Sanders, the promotions chairman for the Oktoberfest event. Officials said the festival would resume Thursday afternoon with a smaller, more open-air tent.
North of Tulsa, five people were injured and 25 mobile homes and travel trailers were damaged when the storm hit a mobile home park between Oologah and the Washington County line, the Oologah-Talala Emergency Medical Services District reported.
Four of the injured were in a mobile home that was destroyed, and the fifth was a woman who was hit by debris, officials said. None of the injuries was believed to be life-threatening, officials said.
In northeastern Missouri, a possible tornado early Thursday in Monroe County killed two people in a mobile home, authorities said. High winds in the area downed trees, power lines and utility poles.
National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Truett said there were reports of a possible tornado, but they had not been confirmed. Several twisters hit southwestern Missouri without causing major damage.
The bodies of Kent Ensor, 44, and Kristy Secrease, 25, were discovered about 400 feet from where the mobile home was found, though troopers said they had been in the home when the storm hit. Secrease managed a hog farm owned by Ensor; the couple had been dating for about a year, friends said. "They were good people," said neighbor Joey Crigler, whose home was spared from damage.
Despite living in a wide-open area prone to severe weather, Crigler said he and his neighbors didn't worry about their safety. "It's just one of those things you kind of laughed about and then go on," he said.
Authorities said high winds also knocked down trees and left minor damage to homes in central and eastern Missouri and southwestern Illinois.
Authorities said two tornadoes touched down Wednesday in southwest Missouri. No injuries were reported, but a home near Chesapeake was reportedly destroyed and a barn was badly damaged.
High winds in Jefferson City blew down the remaining flag pole at the Capitol. Winds had blown down the Capitol's other flag pole in August.