Tornadoes Leave 13 people dead in Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas
Deadly monster tornadoes ravage three states
At least 13 people dead in Okla., Kan., and Ark.; more tornado warnings issued Wednesday
msnbc.com and news services, May 25, 2011
Violent storms that swept through a swath of the central U.S. killed at least 13 people in three states, toppling trees, crushing cars and tearing through a rural Arkansas fire station.
The high-powered storms arrived as forecast Tuesday night and early Wednesday, just days after a massive and tornado tore through the southwest Missouri town of Joplin and killed 122 people and left at least 750 people hurt.
After killing two people in Kansas and eight in Oklahoma, they continued their trek east into Arkansas.
Arkansas Department of Emergency Management spokesman Tommy Jackson said at least one person died after a tornado ripped through the tiny community of Denning in Franklin County early Wednesday. Another person died after storms hit neighboring Johnson County. There weren't any immediate details about how either person died.
Authorities confirmed a third death in western Arkansas Wednesday morning.
KHBS/KHOG-TV, citing the National Weather Service, reported that a tornado said by spotters to be up to a mile wide had destroyed the town of Denning, Arkansas, at about 12:15 a.m. (1:25 a.m. ET) Wednesday. Denning, in Franklin County, has about 100 homes.
Franklin County Sheriff Anthony Bowen, who was near the town of Edna, told NBC News that trees and power lines were down everywhere and gas lines were also reported ruptured. He said at least four homes had been completely destroyed in the Edna area.
Just outside Denning, winery owner Eugene Post listened to the tornado from his porch. He saw the lights flicker, as the storms yanked power away from his community.
"I didn't see anything," Post, 83, said early Wednesday. "I could hear it real loud though. ... It sounded like a train — or two or three — going by."
A number of people were injured in Franklin County, though officials weren't sure exactly how many.
A local fire station was left without a roof as emergency workers tried to rush to the wounded. Downed trees and power lines tossed across roadways also slowed search-and-rescue crews' efforts.
Steve Piltz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Tulsa, Okla., said a strong tornado touched down near Denning, but weather officials weren't able to estimate how fast the winds were blowing without first doing ground surveys.
More tornado warnings were issuedin southern and eastern Missouri Wednesday morning, with tornado watches also issued in surrounding areas, the National Weather Service said.
"Heavy rainfall may obscure this tornado," the Weather Service said in a warning about precautionary and preparedness actions on its website. "Do not wait to see or hear the tornado. Take cover now."
The storm system was expected to move east on Wednesday, with severe thunderstorms, high winds and large hail likely in Arkansas, western and central Tennessee, northwest Mississippi and northern Louisiana, The Weather Channel forecast.
NBC's Al Roker reported that there was a slight risk of tornadoes from Texas all the way to New York and Chicago Wednesday.
Heavy showers were forecast from central and western Kansas up to central Michigan, AccuWeather said.
The Weather Channel's Dr. Greg Forbes explained on NBC's TODAY Wednesday that a pattern of "way above average temperatures" combined with a powerful jet stream fuels strong thunderstorms that can turn into tornadoes.
He said the weather pattern was likely to continue for the next several weeks and then would taper off into the summer and fall.
Frantic search for 3-year-old
Several tornadoes struck Oklahoma City and its suburbs during the Tuesday night rush hour, killing at least eight people and injuring at least 60 others, including three children who were in critical condition, authorities said.
Rescue crews were frantically searching for a 3-year-old child reported missing in the rubble of a home in Piedmont, a suburban area northwest of Oklahoma City.
The child's mother and two other children were injured and taken to the hospital after trying to ride the storm out in a bathtub, NBC station KFOR-TV reported.
Some residents said they had been warned about the impending weather for days and were watching television or listening to the radio so they would know when to take cover.
"We live in Oklahoma and we don't mess around," Lori Jenkins said. "We kept an eye on the weather and knew it was getting close."
She took refuge with her husband and two children in a neighbor's storm shelter in the Oklahoma City suburb of Guthrie. When they emerged, they discovered their carport had been destroyed and the back of their home was damaged.
Cherokee Ballard, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner, said four people died west of Oklahoma City in Canadian County, where a weather-monitoring site in El Reno recorded 151 mph winds.
At Chickasha, 25 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, a 26-year-old woman died when a tornado hit a mobile home park where residents had been asked to evacuate their trailers, Assistant Police Chief Elip Moore said.
He said a dozen people were injured and that hundreds were displaced when the storm splintered their homes.
In Kansas, police said two people died when high winds threw a tree into their van around 6 p.m. near the small town of St. John, about 100 miles west of Wichita. The highway was shut down because of storm damage.
In Joplin on Wednesday, the search for missing victims of the weekend's lethal twister inched forward methodically, with city leaders refusing to abandon hope that they would find more survivors even as rescuers prepared to go over ground searched as many as three times already.
A survivor told NBC's Kevin Tibbles that the tornado was "the most evil-looking thing you've ever seen in your life."
The National Weather Service said the twister was an EF5, the strongest rating assigned to tornadoes, with winds of more than 200 mph.
"We are still in a search-and-rescue mode," said Mark Rohr, Joplin's city manager. "I want to emphasize that."
Late-night tornado sirens had Joplin's residents ducking for cover again before the storm brushed past without serious problems.
Delays expected at Dallas airport
Northeastern Tarrant and Dallas counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area were also under a tornado warning, and numerous North Texas counties were under a tornado watch, the National Weather Service reported.
The city of Dallas activated sirens due to the tornado warning and spotters confirmed a tornado near Bedford, Texas.
Funnel clouds and at least one tornado around North Texas were spotted, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.
Dallas Love Field spokesman Jose Torres said everyone in and around the airport terminal was moved to a basement beneath the terminal as storms moved through. He said no one reported actually seeing a tornado at the airport.
All American Airlines and Eagle operations at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport were suspended for the remainder of night due to storm activity. Delays are expected Wednesday.
The Associated Press, NBC News and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.