Published May 26, 2011
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In storm-weary middle America, many people were counting themselves fortunate after powerful storms swept through the region for the third time in four days but apparently claimed no lives.
Dozens of people were injured, mobile homes were flipped and roofs were torn off houses when tornadoes and thunderstorms hit Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and other states Wednesday evening.
In southern Indiana, neighbors used flashlights to check on each other and their homes and barns near Bloomington after powerful winds overturned two mobile homes. Crews worked overnight to clear uprooted trees and downed power lines after a tornado touched down in a mostly rural area about 25 miles south near Bedford.
The extent of the damage wouldn't be known until daybreak, but residents expressed relief that no deaths were reported in the latest round of storms even though several homes were destroyed and more than a dozen people were injured, including three or four children.
"We're very fortunate," said Lawrence County Sheriff Sam Craig.
Wednesday's storms followed a deadly outbreak Tuesday in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas that killed at least 15 people. On Sunday, the nation's deadliest single tornado since 1950 killed 125 in the southwest Missouri city of Joplin.
The National Weather Service issued tornado watches and a series of warnings in a dozen states earlier Wednesday, stretching northwest from Texas though the Mississippi River valley to Ohio. By Thursday morning, tornado watches were in effect in most of Mississippi, northwestern Alabama and central Kentucky.
"This is just a wild ride," said Beverly Poole, chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service's office in Paducah, Ky.
Heavy rain, hail and lightning pounded Memphis on Wednesday night as a tornado warning sounded. There were no confirmed reports of tornadoes touching down.
Back in southern Indiana, tow truck driver Martin Poteat was in the parking lot of the Walmart on the south side of Bloomington when the storm struck, ripping a cart corral loose and sending it into his truck and spawning up a debris cloud.
"Everything came up off the ground. Everything was just flying," he said.
Earlier in the day, as many as 25 people suffered minor injuries when a tornado damaged several homes and businesses in the central Missouri city of Sedalia. Officials said most were able to get themselves to the hospital for treatment.
"Considering the destruction that occurred in Joplin -- being that we're in tornado alley and Sedalia has historically been hit by tornadoes in the past -- I think people heeded that warning," Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said. "And so, I think that helped tremendously."
Officials in Sedalia ended the school year several days early because of damage to buses.
Sean McCabe was rushing to the basement of his mother's home in Sedalia when the tornado struck and shoved him down the final flight of steps. The 30-year-old suffered scrapes and cuts on his hands, wrists, back and feet. He said neighbors and firefighters helped him get out.
Most of the roof was ripped off the house, which was among the more heavily damaged homes in the area. McCabe, who has a service dog for epilepsy, said both his family's dogs survived, including one found muddy and wet about a block away.
"I saw little debris and then I saw big debris, and I'm like `OK, let's go,"' McCabe said.
Elsewhere in the hard-hit neighborhood, law officers stood on corners and electrical crews worked on power lines. Numerous trees were down, and tarps were covering some houses while others were missing chunks of their roofs. People were cleaning debris and sifting through belongings.
In Illinois, strong winds, rain and at least four possible tornadoes knocked down power lines and damaged at least one home and a number of farm buildings across the central and eastern parts of the state.
"Mostly it was shingles off roofs and garages," said Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson.