Rare Winter Tornadoes Rip Through Midwest; Towns Flooded, Houses Destroyed, 8 Dead

A line of thunderstorms fed by warm weather continued spinning off unusual January tornadoes Tuesday, killing a man in Arkansas and carrying a cow close to a mile.

At least three people died and hundreds evacuated because of flooding in Indiana, where more than 5 inches of rain in some areas and melting snow pushed rivers and streams over their banks. Two of the victims were young children trapped in a submerged car.

A tornado that hit Appleton, Ark., rolled a double-wide mobile home off its cinder block supports, killing a man and injuring his wife. The trailer appeared to have rolled for 50 yards before smashing against a stand of trees.

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"The tornado hit and just it looked like his house pretty much exploded. It was taken completely off the blocks and just tore to pieces. They were both in the wreckage," said Pope County Sheriff Jay Winters.

The twister hit about 8:40 a.m., damaging or destroying homes, chicken houses and other farm outbuildings. Damage wasn't widespread because there are few homes in the rural area, about 60 miles northwest of Little Rock in the Ozark foothills.

Kirk Killins, his girlfriend and his father were heading toward his parents' house and their storm cellar when his truck was stalled against the tornado's winds.

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"I had it floored and it wasn't doing nothing. I looked to my right and the hay barn and shop just disappeared," Killins said.

"I don't know how we kept from getting killed," he said. "When the truck started spinning and I saw tin flying by, I thought this was it."

Killins said the tornado picked up one of his family's cows. It survived, even though the storm "probably carried her about three-quarters of a mile," he said.

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Another tornado was spotted Tuesday afternoon in northwest Tennessee. The Dyer County Sheriff's Department reported no injuries, and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said that although a barn was destroyed and some power lines were down, there was no widespread damage.

The National Weather Service declared tornado watches or warnings Tuesday afternoon in states including Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky. Several tornadoes were confirmed or reported Monday in Missouri, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Illinois, Oklahoma and Missouri, where two people were killed.

In northern Indiana, a sport utility vehicle carrying a woman and her five young children stalled on a flooded road in a rural area near Rochester before floating into deeper water, the Fulton County Sheriff's Department said. Shay Leininger, 5, and Ashley Pruitt, 2, died.

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Mentone Fire Chief Mike Yazel said that the SUV's roof rack was the only thing visible when the first officer arrived, but that the driver, Megihann K. Leininger, was able to get to the surface and put three of her children on the roof: Mariah Leininger, 4, Michael McDaniel, 1, and Canari Trigg, 3 months.

It took several minutes and a front-end loader for crews to rescue the four, but there was nothing they could do for Shay and Ashley, who were trapped underwater.

"The water was too deep, too cold, too fast," Yazel said. Their 29-year-old mother "had to sit there on the roof, knowing that would be the worst part of the story," he said.

To the southwest in Jasper County, a 56-year-old man drowned in Remington when his truck was swept into Carpenter Creek floodwaters, said Shawn Brown, a conservation officer with the Department of Natural Resources.

Ronnie D. Napier, of Goodland, might have been on his way to his job at a nearby factory, Brown said.

"Witnesses in the area heard some yelling, and they saw him in the creek and they saw him go underneath the bridge and never saw him again," Brown said.

As many as 150 people evacuated areas around Remington, where power was cut off and water reached waist-high in some places, said Karen Wilson, Jasper County's emergency management director.

In nearby White County, boats were called out to help move out hundreds of people in Monticello, Blue Water Beach and Diamond Point, county emergency management director Gordon Cochran said.

Other parts of the country were able to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. Temperatures hit record highs Monday in scores of cities from the Plains to the Northeast, and more records were set in many areas Tuesday.

Boston reached a record 67, and Atlantic City, N.J., hit 68; Syracuse, N.Y., hit 70 — tying a record for the month of January.

The reason for the balmy breezes was a high-pressure system near Bermuda, with warm air circulating clockwise around it and flowing from the Gulf Coast states north, said John Quinlan, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Albany, N.Y., which set a record of 58 degrees by noon.

More usual this time of year is a high-pressure system tracking across eastern Canada and bringing Arctic air south.

Monday's storms brought Wisconsin's first January tornado since 1967 and Illinois' first since 1950, the National Weather Service said. Twisters are less rare this time of year in states such as Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.