The Heat Is Online

225 Twisters, Floods Batter US Midwest and South, Killing 42

Georgia death as storms pound South, Midwest

CNN.com, May 8, 2003

One person was killed in Georgia Thursday as floodwaters covered streets and delayed school openings.

The Troup County sheriff's department said high water swept a car off a road about 7:45 a.m. EDT, killing the driver. The incident occurred less than an hour after the sheriff's department banned all traffic in the county except for emergency vehicles.

By Thursday afternoon, severe weather had formed across much of the Midwest and South for the fifth straight day.

Officials recorded 225 tornadoes for the first seven days of May -- already a record number and the total continues to rise. More than 40 people have been killed in the non-stop storms.

Two tornadoes swooped down near Denver International Airport Thursday as severe thunderstorms barreled through the area. The midday sky turned a deep black and as much as three inches of hail fell in the area, authorities said.

There were no reports of injuries from the tornadoes, which touched down in farmland southeast and northeast of the airport. No damage was reported at the airport.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, school closings stretched into their third day Thursday with some 60 roads closed because of flooding.

The road leading to the Chattanooga Airport, a major hub for flight connections from Nashville and Atlanta, is also closed, said Amy Maxwell, public information officer for Hamilton County Emergency Services.

Authorities said the Tennessee River -- which had reached its highest levels in 30 years in recent days -- receded Thursday morning but was still about five feet above flood level.

Maxwell said officials have estimated $10 million to $17 million worth of damage so far in the area. Three-hundred structures, including dozens of homes, have been affected, the Tennessee Valley Authority said.

The area received as much as 8 inches in less than a day, swelling the creeks and tributaries that feed into the Tennessee river. Emergency personnel have reported no injuries or deaths directly related to the flooding, she said.

In Mississippi, a day after Gov. Ronnie Musgrave declared a state of emergency, emergency management officials were working to "get a joint damage assessment team into the area, hopefully (Thursday)," spokeswoman Amy Carruth said.

That team would have representatives from FEMA, local government officials, and Mississippi emergency management department personnel and would focus "primarily on Monroe and Chickasaw counties," Carruth said.

There have been "just a few minor injuries, probably less than 10" in Mississippi.

Six to 8 inches of rain fell in and around the airport in Birmingham, Ala., overnight, but operations were back to normal there Thursday, airport spokeswoman Patty Howell reported.

This fast-food sign in Lexington, Tennessee, was twisted by a tornado earlier this week.

Meanwhile, residents of Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas were racing against the clock Thursday, hoping to get property under cover before more bad weather hits. Parts of those states were heavily damaged earlier this week.

In Pierce City, Missouri, which has just over 1,300 residents, 96 houses were damaged by tornadoes, Red Cross officials told CNN.

Authorities are concerned hard rain could do more property damage and possible collapse already weakened structures.

Forecasters said eastern Kansas, western Missouri and northern Arkansas faced the likelihood of more tornadoes Thursday as a low-pressure system moved up from the southwest, mixing a lot of heat and moisture in the atmosphere.

 

No promises on an end to rain
Weather.com, May 8, 2003

ATLANTA (AP) After three days of severe thunderstorms across north Georgia, forecasters could promise no end to the rain.

"It's looking like a repeat of yesterday and the day before that," National Weather Service meteorologist Vaughn Smith said.

After four years of drought, the weather pattern seems unusual.

"We've been in a drought so long that people are like, `Where is all this coming from?"' Smith said. "But this is normal springtime in Georgia."

Schools in Fannin and Coweta counties were closed Thursday after a storm system brought lightning, tornado warnings, high winds, heavy rain and reports of funnel clouds to north Georgia.

Streams were overflowing from the Alabama line to metro Atlanta and trees and power lines were knocked down by high winds in Coweta County, south of the Atlanta area.

Lightning played havoc in adjacent Carroll County, destroying one home, damaging another and knocking out water pumping stations in at least two areas.

In Carrollton, stormy weather caused West Georgia University to cancel graduation ceremonies Wednesday night.

The storms Wednesday were particularly unusual, said Tim Padgett, Carroll County Emergency Management director. "They lined up behind each other coming into the county, following each other like a convoy."

National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Noffsinger said there was no confirmation of tornadoes Wednesday.

"But we're still dealing with a lot of flooding just south of our office here and in west central Georgia," he said early Thursday.

He said strong wind gusts in thunderstorms could be just as dangerous.

"You can get up to 100 miles per hour straight-line winds. Either way, it does damage," he said.

Flood warnings were posted for Sweetwater Creek in Cobb and Douglas counties, Big Creek in north Fulton County, the Oostanaula River in northwest Georgia, the Oconee River east of Atlanta and the Ocmulgee River near Macon.

Floyd County residents tried to clean up as high water covered some roads and shut down others. The Oostanaula River was expected to crest at 28.6 feet by Friday, about 3 feet over the 25-foot flood stage.

Rainfall totals for the 24-hour period ending at 8 a.m. Thursday were 0.55 inches in Marietta, 0.60 inches in Atlanta and 2.39 inches in Peachtree City.

Dams and sewers across the state strained to accommodate the surge in rainfall. A privately owned dam failed near East Ellijay on Wednesday morning. No one was injured, but six houses were evacuated and three trailers damaged, said Tom Woosley, program manager of permitting and compliance for the Safe Dams Program.

The National Weather Service estimated a twister that struck Elbert County northeast of Athens on Tuesday had winds of more than 100 mph. Terry Benthall, a program manager with the weather service office in Greer, S.C., said the pattern indicated that it was an F-1 or an F-2 on the 0-to-5 scale use to describe tornado strength.

With homes flattened and cars overturned, officials said it was surprising no one was seriously hurt.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

More Violent Weather Deaths in Central U.S.

Reuters News Service, May 7, 2003

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Tornadoes killed two people in Illinois as another wave of violent weather swept over the central United States, officials said on Wednesday.

The deaths in the far southern tip of the state near the Kentucky border brought to 42 the number of people killed in three days of savage storms from Kansas eastward to Tennessee.

The storms also dumped heavy rains on Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia and Alabama, where flash flood warnings were posted. Some secondary roads in northern Alabama were under water and more rain was falling.

The Massac County Sheriff's Office in Metropolis, Illinois, said there was one confirmed death and 20 injuries from the storm in a largely rural area in the western part of the county from a tornado that struck late on Tuesday evening.

Illinois emergency management officials said a second person was killed in Pulaski County and there were at least two confirmed tornado touch-downs in the region.

On Tuesday storms likely from the same system swept through parts of Missouri causing heavy damage but no deaths in the town of De Soto. Winds there collapsed a school gymnasium but several people inside in a basement level escaped harm.

The earlier storms took 18 lives in Missouri, seven in Kansas and 15 in Tennessee, where officials revised the total downward by one from Tuesday's count.

Officials ordered tourists off the streets in downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee, on Tuesday afternoon as water rose from a nearby creek, but conditions had returned to normal Wednesday.

In northern Georgia flooding forced hundreds of people from their homes in Walker County, near the state's border with Alabama and Tennessee.

"We're definitely watching the water levels very closely," said Lisa Ray, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Ray said the storms damaged at least 17 homes in Walker County. One family was taken to hospital with slight injuries after powerful winds damaged their mobile home.

In Huntsville, the largest city in northern Alabama, emergency crews were clearing tree limbs and power lines, while many motorists avoided flooded city streets.

Deadly Storms Rip Across American Heartland

PIERCE CITY, Missouri, May 6, 2003 (ENS) - Thirty-eight people are dead and hundreds more are injured after giant, supercell storms and deadly tornadoes swept across eight states on Sunday night. Cold dry air moving from the Rockies collided with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico sending residents of eastern Kansas, and parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska, Tennessee, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Mississippi scrambling for shelter from tornadoes, high winds and giant hailstones.

(News radio reported on May 7 that the death toll had climbed to 40 from a succession of 80 tornadoes which raked the central U.S. from Nebraska to Tennessee in a three-day period.)

Today a vast cleanup effort is underway along the 400 miles of the storms' path as tornado warnings and flood watches continue to circulate through the Midwest and South. The National Weather Service is warning those involved in recovery efforts should be prepared for more severe weather. Severe thunderstorms are forecast for southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri, spreading east across the Ozarks this evening. Tornadoes are possible along with very large hail and damaging winds.

In Missouri, at least 18 people died and eight others are missing as a result of the storms, and at least seven people died in Kansas. Today President George W. Bush declared that a major disaster exists in these two states, opening the way for the use of federal disaster funds to help meet the recovery needs of families and businesses.

Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) who is undersecretary for the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, made the disaster funding announcement in Missouri today following a tour of the damages to the Pierce City area, one of the towns hit hardest by the storms.

"President Bush understands what these storms did to Missouri, and that's why he made federal disaster assistance available so quickly," Brown said. "FEMA will be there to do whatever it takes to help get all those in need back on the road to recovery." The declaration covers damage to private property from severe storms, tornadoes and flooding in 39 Missouri counties.

"Theres virtually nothing here that wasnt hit by the tornadoes," said American Red Cross spokesperson Michael Spencer today as he surveyed the damages in Pierce City. The Red Cross estimates that 100 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in the town of 1,400. "Its going to take weeks for these people to get back on their feet," Spencer said.

A National Guard armory about 35 miles southwest of Springfield, Missouri where some residents had sought shelter was the scene of more than 10 deaths, according to authorities. The building was reportedly leveled by a tornado that was on the ground for half an hour.

"Our citizens and some communities have suffered immense losses," said Missouri Governor Bob Holden. "While I have asked the President for a disaster declaration for 39 counties, as damage information from other counties continues to be compiled it may be necessary to add additional counties to the disaster request."

"Though I have seen the aftermath of tornadoes before, the devastation never ceases to amaze me," said Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius Monday during a visit to stricken Crawford and Wyandotte counties. "My thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones and their homes and I want to do what I can to help."

In Kansas City, Missouri, people are searching for personal items such as photos and documents that were scattered by the strong winds, and disposing of spoiled food. The Kansas City Fire Department estimates that 20 homes have been severely damaged and 50 have moderate damage.

Brown toured the damaged Kansas City area this morning and promised that FEMA will do all that can be done to make sure that "everyone in need of assistance receives it as fast and efficiently as possible," in the seven counties that have been declared disaster areas.

The tornado was blamed for one death in Kansas City, Kansas, after it passed near the Kansas Speedway at I-70 and I-435, and passed just east of the Woodlands race track. The tornado forced the temporary closure of Kansas City International Airport, where officials evacuated the control tower and guided travelers and others to tunnels for about 30 minutes.

In Tennessee, at least 13 people are dead, and two others are missing. Eleven deaths reported in Madison County, where tornado carved 65 mile path of destruction. To date, Tennessee has not been officially declared a disaster area.

The Red Cross says volunteers from across the nation have been pouring into affected regions in Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee where homes were destroyed, hailstones as large as baseballs inflicted damage to property, and power outages affected homes and businesses.

Local Red Cross chapters are at work around the clock to deliver warm meals, clean water, cleanup supplies and safe refuge to thousands of affected residents.

Counseling is being offered to storm victims traumatized by their losses. "One of the most important things we are doing right now is providing mental health counseling. Not only have many of these people lost loved one and friends, theyve lost everything - their homes, businesses and entire communities. Our trained counselors are helping them cope with their huge losses," said Spencer.

Brown indicated that more counties and additional forms of assistance for the state and local government agencies may be designated later based on the results of further damage assessments. He named Michael Hall of FEMA to coordinate the federal relief effort.

According to the National Weather Service, torrential rains and severe thunderstorms moved eastward through already saturated areas of Tennessee and adjacent areas of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia Tuesday morning, with some locations reporting in excess of four inches of rain.

The American Red Cross is urging all residents in the severe weathers path to ready themselves now. Weather officials have issued flood watches over the eastern two-thirds of Tennessee and parts of the Carolinas and Alabama.

Meanwhile, a tornado watch was in effect Tuesday morning for parts of western Tennessee, northern Mississippi and northern Alabama.

Twisters death toll rises to 32

MSNBC.com, May 5, 2003

May 5 -- The death toll from dozens of twisters and severe storms that ripped through the Midwest and South continued to climb Monday, with the number at 32 by midday. Eleven of the deaths occurred overnight in and around Jackson, Tenn. As homeless families combed through rubble and sought shelter, officials warned of the possibility of more severe weather in the region.

The death toll had been 19 until Monday morning, when the Jackson-Madison County General Hospital in Tennessee confirmed 11 fatalities from a tornado that hit shortly before midnight. Sixty-six people were treated for injuries and the hospital was expecting more victims from and around the city of 85,000.

Much of Jackson had no power Monday and the hospital was operating off a generator.

"It's like downtown Baghdad," resident Joe Byrd said of the damage.

With winds of at least 100 mph, the tornado tore a 65-mile path across west Tennessee.

The series of tornadoes that began midday Sunday knocked hundreds of homes off their foundations, uprooted trees, downed power lines and forced travelers at Kansas City's main airport to huddle in underground tunnels.

ARMORY LEVELED

In Pierce City, Mo., there was not a home or business in the town of nearly 1,400 residents untouched by a tornado that struck around 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Trees were twisted and brick, glass and other debris made it impossible to walk the streets.

"It's devastating," said Michael Spencer, a Red Cross worker in Pierce City. Commercial buildings around the town square were hard hit and "there are homes behind them that are just flattened," he said.

State Rep. Jack Goodman, a town native, told NBC's "Today" show that "there's not one downtown building that wasn't seriously damaged."

Among them was the National Guard Armory, where two bodies were pulled from the rubble and where police had said they feared up to nine were trapped after seeking shelter there.

By midmorning, however, rescuers found no bodies and regional emergency official Glenn Dittmar said he was "99 1/2 percent" sure that no one else would be found at the armory, which was the town's designated tornado shelter.

Mayor Mark Peters, who took shelter in the armory along with 40 or so other residents, told "Today" that when he emerged, "I didn't see the town."

Peters said the town wasn't expected to get power back for at least 36 hours and that residents were being told to boil water for the time being.

14 KILLED IN MISSOURI

Missouri's fatalities included three Lawrence County residents. Two women were reported dead in nearby Greene and Christian counties, and three more people were killed in Camden County, about 70 miles northeast of Lawrence County. In Barton County, one person was killed when a tornado struck west of Liberal. Another victim was killed at a trailer park in Monett, just to the south of Pierce City.

In Carl Junction, about two miles northwest of Joplin, two people were killed by a twister there.


On Monday morning, officials in the town of Tunas found a couple who had been killed when a tornado struck their mobile home.

Gov. Bob Holden declared a state of emergency and National Guard troops were sent to protect hard-hit areas.

At the international airport in Kansas City, Mo., officials stopped all flights and evacuated the terminals. Passengers were ushered into underground tunnels leading to parking garages. After about 30 minutes, the passengers were allowed to leave and the airport was reopened.

"It looked like a big wall. There was nothing but trash" being sucked up in a massive black cloud, Kansas City area resident Ed Miller told the Kansas City Star. His home escaped with minor damage but his bedroom was filled with broken glass.

SEVEN DEAD IN KANSAS


In Kansas, seven people were reported dead and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declared seven counties disaster areas. Three deaths were reported in Crawford County, three in Cherokee County, and one in Wyandotte County.

"I've lived in this community for 51 years and this is as bad as I've seen," said Don Denney, a spokesman for Wyandotte County. "We've had widespread damage, numerous homes leveled, numerous homes significantly damaged."

In Kansas City, Kan., cars and trucks were tossed into a ravine full of splintered trees and several houses were knocked off their foundations.

Jodee Nirschl, whose house is directly across from the ravine, said windows were blown out and a chunk of the second floor was missing.

"My daughter's room is gone, but she's OK," Nirschl said, her voice breaking and tears coming to her eyes. "As long as I have my kids and my husband, I'll be OK."

In Crawford County, 95 homes were damaged or destroyed, at least 20 of them in the Franklin area, said county emergency management director Edlon Bedene.

"It wiped out a third of the town, I hate to say it," Bedene said of Franklin. "The trees are like somebody came in and cut them off 10 feet above the ground. It's a mess."

"It was like somebody dropped a bomb," he said of the storm, which blew a freight train off the tracks. "There is nothing here now, just big piles of rubbish."

CORNFIELD IN THE HOUSE


The tornadoes were part of a large storm system that hit the Midwest and parts of the South.
Storms earlier unleashed tornadoes in Nebraska, dumping rain and some hail over most of the drought-parched state.

"We got smacked," said Herb Johnston, who lives east of Minatare, Neb. "We lost a shed and windows in the house, and I think we've got half the cornfield in the house now."

South Dakota authorities also reported tornadoes and hail as big as baseballs.

Damage in Arkansas included wrecked homes and businesses, power outages and overturned trucks.

By midmorning Monday, thunderstorms were racing eastward through the Ohio and Tennessee valleys. Some 24,000 homes and businesses lost power in Louisville, Ky., utility officials said.

The Red Cross said information on shelters where some of the tornado victims may have gone could be obtained by calling 1-866-GETINFO.

President Bush, who was visiting Little Rock, Ark. on Monday, said the federal government would move as quickly as possible to help the storm-damaged areas. "Nature's awfully tough at times and the best thing we can do right now is to pray for those who have suffered," he added.

At least 26 dead in Midwest twisters

MSNBC.COM, May 5, 2003

May 5 -- The death toll from a series of twisters ripping through the Midwest jumped to at least 26, when officials reported seven deaths in a Tennessee county overnight. In one Missouri town, meanwhile, rescuers were trying to comb through the rubble of a destroyed armory, searching for up to eight people feared trapped after twisters hit there Sunday.

The death toll had been 19 until Monday morning, when Tennessee officials said at least 7 were killed by violent storms that struck Madison County Sunday night and early Monday.

Houses across the region were knocked off their foundations, trees were uprooted, power lines littered roadways and travelers were forced to huddle in underground tunnels at Kansas Citys main airport.

In Pierce City, Mo., there was not a home or business in the town of nearly 1,400 residents untouched by a tornado. Trees were twisted and brick, glass and other debris made it impossible to walk the streets.

"It's devastating," said Michael Spencer, a Red Cross worker in Pierce City. Commercial buildings around the town square were hard hit and "there are homes behind them that are just flattened," he said.

ARMORY LEVELED

State Rep. Jack Goodman, a town native, told NBC's "Today" show that "there's not one downtown building that wasn't seriously damaged."

Among them was the National Guard Armory, where two bodies were pulled from the rubble and where police had said they feared up to nine were trapped after seeking shelter there.

The number was later lowered to eight, and Goodman, who was in town when the storm hit, said officials were "hopeful" that the reports might be completely wrong, with no one left inside.

"I've never been in anything like this. It was absolutely terrible," said Pierce City clerk Julie Johnson, who rode out the storm in the armory bathroom.

Searchers accompanied by dogs were digging through the armory debris in hopes of finding the missing victims alive, but the brick-and-wood structure was unstable and the process was going slowly.

Residents in the town had gone to the armory in search of shelter as the weather worsened. When they realized the tornado was headed their way, they attempted to make it into the basement, Goodman told other reporters.

"Apparently there was a bottleneck at the top of the stairs going to the basement that was so bad that few, if any, made it down there," Goodman said.

11 KILLED IN MISSOURI

Missouri's fatalities included three Lawrence County residents. Two women were reported dead in nearby Greene and Christian counties, and three more people were killed in Camden County, about 70 miles northeast of Lawrence County. In Barton County, one person was killed when a tornado struck west of Liberal. Another victim was killed at a trailer park in Monett, just to the south of Pierce City in Barry County.

In Carl Junction, about two miles northwest of Joplin, two people were killed by a twister there.

Gov. Bob Holden declared a state of emergency and National Guard troops were sent to protect hard-hit areas.

At the international airport in Kansas City, Mo., officials stopped all flights and evacuated the terminals. Passengers were ushered into underground tunnels leading to parking garages. After about 30 minutes, the passengers were allowed to leave and the airport was reopened.

"It looked like a big wall. There was nothing but trash" being sucked up in a massive black cloud, Kansas City area resident Ed Miller told the Kansas City Star. His home escaped with minor damage but his bedroom was filled with broken glass.

SEVEN DEAD IN KANSAS

In Kansas, seven people were reported dead and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declared seven counties disaster areas. Three deaths were reported in Crawford County, three in Cherokee County, and one in Wyandotte County.

"I've lived in this community for 51 years and this is as bad as I've seen," said Don Denney, a spokesman for Wyandotte County. "We've had widespread damage, numerous homes leveled, numerous homes significantly damaged."

In Kansas City, Kan., cars and trucks were tossed into a ravine full of splintered trees and several houses were knocked off their foundations.

Jodee Nirschl, whose house is directly across from the ravine, said windows were blown out and a chunk of the second floor was missing.

"My daughter's room is gone, but she's OK," Nirschl said, her voice breaking and tears coming to her eyes. "As long as I have my kids and my husband, I'll be OK."

CORNFIELD IN THE HOUSE

The tornadoes were part of a large storm system that hit the Midwest.

Storms earlier unleashed tornadoes in Nebraska, dumping rain and some hail over most of the drought-parched state. South Dakota authorities also reported tornadoes.

"We got smacked," said Herb Johnston, who lives east of Minatare, Neb. "We lost a shed and windows in the house, and I think we've got half the cornfield in the house now."

The Red Cross said information on shelters where some of the victims may have gone could be obtained by calling 1-866-GETINFO.

54 Tornadoes Hit Midwest

The Associated Press, May 4, 2003

A powerful tornado that stayed on the ground for almost three hours hit the Kansas City area Sunday afternoon, killing at least one person and injuring an unknown number.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declared seven counties disaster areas: Cherokee, Crawford, Labette and Neosho counties in southeast Kansas, and Leavenworth, Miami and Wyandotte counties in northeast Kansas.

Officials at Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., said they were treating people injured by the tornado that hit metropolitan Kansas City, one of several twisters reported in Kansas and Missouri. Officials could not estimate how many injured were at the hospital.

Don Denney, a spokesman for Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., said one death was confirmed and searchers were looking for other victims. The victim's name and other details were not immediately available.

He said dozens of homes were significantly damaged and several were destroyed.

In some places, the swath of destruction was one-quarter mile wide as the tornado moved through the western and northern parts of the metropolitan area.

Denney said the city was fielding reports of gas leaks and electrical problems soon after the storm, and that electricity was out briefly at Providence Medical Center.

A shelter was set up at a middle school in Wyandotte County for people displaced by the storm.

Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Greg Gardner, Kansas' director of emergency management, said state officials knew of four tornadoes that touched down in the state: one each in Leavenworth, Wyandotte, Miami and Crawford counties.

He did not have an immediate damage estimate.

The largest tornado first touched down west of Bonner Springs in Leavenworth County, Kan., around 3:30 p.m., said Lynn Maximuk, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Mo.

It moved through Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties and into Platte and Clay counties in Missouri, leaving behind a path of destruction.

The tornado reached 500 yards across at its widest, Maximuk said.

It finally died out shortly before 6:30 p.m. in Ray County, northeast of Kansas City, meteorologist Lisa Schmit said.

In Kansas, dozens of homes were torn down or damaged in Wyandotte County. There were also reports that a subdivision was flattened in Leavenworth.

There was damage near Kansas Speedway and the Cabela's outdoor store in Kansas City, Kan., but neither the store nor the racetrack appeared to be damaged.

At Kansas City, Mo. International Airport, officials stopped all flights and evacuated the terminals. Passengers were ushered into underground tunnels leading to parking garages. After about 30 minutes, the passengers were allowed to leave and the airport was reopened.

Television footage showed water spurting from what appeared to be a flattened industrial park south of Parkville, Mo., in Platte County.

Emergency crews closed all roads leading into Parkville.

In nearby Riverside, debris littered an interstate highway and a storage facility appeared to have been ripped up and moved off its foundations.

The storm ripped a wide swath through Gladstone, damaging roofs, shattering windows and destroying business signage -- including a large aluminum sign that was bent in half and draped high up over a power line.

Stop lights at intersections weren't working in many places because of a power outage, causing confusion among motorists and considerable congestion. At some intersections, law enforcement officers were directing traffic to keep vehicles moving.

Danny Velasquez, who lives in a small valley in Gladstone, was outside when he noticed debris in the air above his home started to rotate.

"That's when I was out of there," he said.

The valley appears to have protected the homes -- but not the trees.

Velasquez already had sent his family down into the basement, and he joined them as soon as he saw the tornado. There was no damage to his home.

Down the street in the same valley, Pam Rogers returned home from shopping just before the tornado struck. She said she heard about the storm warning on her car radio and cut her shopping trip short to race home.

"We're all safe. We heard it and we sure felt it," said Rogers, whose family was in the basement when the storm hit. "We heard something coming and it was just like they say, like a train is going through your house."

The storm damaged a deck and ripped shingles from the roof of the home where Rogers has lived for the last 11 years. It also uprooted a large tree in her front yard.

After the storm, relatives who were at the house for the first communion for Rogers' son were outside with chain saws, clearing debris and cleaning up the yard.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

 

Death Toll from Midwest Tornadoes Is Expected to Rise

Tornadoes killat least 19 people in Kansas and Missouri

The New York Times, May 5, 2003

 

PIERCE CITY, Mo. -- A swarm of tornadoes crashed through the Midwest, killing at least 19 people in Kansas and Missouri. Another eight people were feared dead in this hard-hit city when the armory where they had taken shelter was virtually leveled.

Houses across the region were knocked off their foundations, trees were uprooted, power lines littered roadways and travelers were forced to huddle in underground tunnels at Kansas City's main airport.

In Pierce City, there was not a home or business in the town of nearly 1,400 residents untouched by a tornado. Trees were twisted and brick, glass and other debris made it impossible to walk the streets.

Eight people were feared dead in the city's damaged National Guard Armory, Lawrence County Sheriff Doug Seneker said. Two bodies were pulled from the rubble. An additional person who was believed to have been in the armory was found alive elsewhere.

Searchers accompanied by dogs were digging through the armory debris in hopes of finding the missing victims alive, but the brick-and-wood structure was unstable and the process was going slowly.

"They're hearing no signs of life, but they are still working to find them," said state Rep. Jack Goodman, who grew up in Pierce City and was in town when the storm hit.

Residents in the town had gone to the armory in search of shelter as the weather worsened. When they realized the tornado was headed their way, they attempted to make it into the basement, Goodman said.

"Apparently there was a bottleneck at the top of the stairs going to the basement that was so bad that few, if any, made it down there," Goodman said.

"I've never been in anything like this. It was absolutely terrible," said Pierce City clerk Julie Johnson, who rode out the storm in the armory bathroom.

Missouri's fatalities included three Lawrence County residents. Two women were reported dead in nearby Greene and Christian counties, and three more people were killed in Camden County, about 70 miles northeast of Lawrence County, the Camden County Sheriff's Department said. In Barton County, one person was killed when a tornado struck west of Liberal, officials said. Another victim was killed at a trailer park in Monett, just to the south of Pierce City in Barry County.

In Carl Junction, about two miles northwest of Joplin, two people were killed by a twister there, said officer Tiffany Sparks with the Jasper County Sheriff's Office.

Gov. Bob Holden said the damage was "the worst I've seen from a tornado in several years." National Guard troops were sent to protect hard-hit areas.

Holden toured Northmoor, a small town in Platte County, where between 25 and 30 homes were either damaged or destroyed. The town's City Hall and police station also were damaged.

"I had to hold on with all my strength," said resident Charles Tholl, who was with his girlfriend and five children when the storm hit. "It was scary. It felt like the house was twirling."

In Kansas, seven people were reported dead and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declared seven counties disaster areas. Col. Joy Moser of the state's emergency management office, said three deaths were reported in Crawford County, three in Cherokee County, and one in Wyandotte County.

"My thoughts and prayers are with those who have been touched by this disaster, especially those who have lost loved ones," Sebelius said. "We will work together to help our communities to assess the damage and then rebuild and recover."

The tornadoes were part of a large storm system that hit the Midwest, spawning twisters in South Dakota and Nebraska as well.

At Kansas City, Mo. International Airport, officials stopped all flights and evacuated the terminals. Passengers were ushered into underground tunnels leading to parking garages. After about 30 minutes, the passengers were allowed to leave and the airport was reopened.

Cars and trucks were tossed into a ravine full of splintered trees in Kansas City, Kan., and several houses were knocked off their foundations.

Jodee Nirschl, whose house is directly across from the ravine, said windows were blown out and a chunk of the second floor was missing.

"My daughter's room is gone, but she's OK," Nirschl said, her voice breaking and tears coming to her eyes. "As long as I have my kids and my husband, I'll be OK."

Storms earlier unleashed tornadoes in Nebraska, dumping rain and some hail over most of the drought-parched state. South Dakota authorities also reported tornadoes.

"We got smacked," said Herb Johnston, who lives east of Minatare, Neb. "We lost a shed and windows in the house, and I think we've got half the cornfield in the house now."