At least 18 people were killed Sunday by three separate tornadoes spawned by a powerful storm system that tore through the central and southern states.
The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management confirmed early today that at least 16 people had been killed after a tornado swept through central Arkansas, while an Oklahoma county sheriff’s dispatcher said that one person had died in the town of Quapaw, near the state’s borders with Kansas and Missouri. Fox News has said that one person died when a tornado hit Keokuk County, Iowa.
In the small town of Vilonia in central Arkansas’ Faulkner county, winds ripped houses off their foundations and flipped cars on top of the rubble. It was one of the worst hit communities. The community of Mayflower was also hit pretty bad.
“There’s just really nothing there anymore. We’re probably going to have to start all over again,” Vilonia Schools Superintendent Frank Mitchell said early Monday after looking at what had been a $14 million intermediate school set to open this fall.
The tornado shredded cars and trucks stuck along Interstate 40 north of Little Rock. State troopers had gone from vehicle-to-vehicle to check on motorists, and were surprised to see that no one had been killed.
“About 30 vehicles — large trucks, sedans, pickup trucks — were going through there when the funnel cloud passed over,” stated Bill Sadler, a spokesman for the Arkansas State Police.
The National Weather Service in North Little Rock said that it’s pretty certain that the Mayflower and Vilonia storm will be rated as the nation’s strongest twister to date this year.
“It has the potential to be EF3 or greater,” stated meteorologist Jeff Hood. EF3 storms have winds greater than 136 mph. “Based on some of the footage we’ve seen from Mayflower and where it crossed Interstate 40, things were wrecked in a very significant way.”
Becky Naylor, 57, from Mayflower, said, “It sounded like a constant rolling, roaring sound. Trees were really bending and the light poles were actually shaking and moving. That’s before we shut the door and we’ve only shut the door to the storm cellar two times.”
The White House has issued a statement in which President Barack Obama has promised that the federal government would assist in the recovery and praised the efforts of first-responders and neighbors.
“Your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild as long as it takes,” Obama said.
There wasn’t just destruction in Arkansas. A huge storm system moved through parts of the Plains, Midwest, and South.
Less than two hours before the Arkansas tornado hit, a twister hit Quapaw, which is a small northeastern Oklahoma community. One person was killed and a least six others were injured, according to Ottawa County sheriff’s dispatcher Kelli Soechs.
Ottawa County Emergency Management director Joe Dan Morgan stated that Quapaw, which has approximately 900 residents, was incredibly damaged by the tornado.
“Looks like about half of town got extensive damage as well as the fire department,” Morgan said.
After tearing through Quapaw, the tornado moved northward into Kansas and caused extensive damage in Baxter Springs. It’s a city that has about 4,200 residents. Several people were injured there.
Tornadoes also touched down in Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri yesterday.
“Forecasters warned that areas that weren’t hit by tornadoes were still at risk of damage from hail and powerful straight-line winds. Forecasters warned of hail stones as big as baseballs and wind gusts that could reach hurricane-force — 75 mph or higher.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who was affected by the tornadoes in some shape or form.