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U.S. storms kills 21, tornado roars through Mississippi city



By Robbie Ward

(Reuters) - On a second day of ferocious storms that have claimed at least 21 lives in the southern United States, a tornado tore through the Mississippi town of Tupelo on Monday causing widespread destruction to homes and businesses, according to witnesses and local emergency officials.

At least one person was killed in Tupelo, a city of about 35,000 in the northeast of the state and the birthplace of Elvis Presley.

Most of the deaths from the severe storm system occurred on Sunday when tornadoes tossed cars like toys in Arkansas and other states.

Monday's twister in Tupelo, one of several to tear across Mississippi, damaged hundreds of homes and businesses, downed power lines and tore up trees, the National Weather Service said.

"It was real bad. We're trying to pull people out," Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre, told Reuters, referring to emergency crews going house to house, searching damaged buildings.

Power was out in much of the city, where officials imposed an 8 p.m. (0100 GMT) curfew. Some residential areas were closed off as emergency crews checked downed power lines and gas leaks.

"It's a very serious situation," said Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton. "I am just encouraging everyone to stay inside and be weather aware. There is still a very real danger of another line coming through and people still need to be inside."

Some residents whose homes were destroyed took refuge in a Red Cross shelter at a downtown sports arena.

"I heard snapping and I said, 'Get down on the floor!' And then the trees started falling over," said Moe Kirk Bristow, a Tupelo resident. "I haven't seen a house yet that doesn't have a tree through it or on it, so it's bad."

Another woman, Reginia DeWalt said she was awakened when the tornado roared by. "It sounded like a big pressure washer - but worse," she said.

The storm system later pushed into parts of Alabama, where emergency officials said at least two people were killed at a trailer park near Athens, Alabama. Parts of western Georgia and Tennessee also were at risk as the system that spawned the tornadoes headed east toward the Mid-Atlantic states.

Rescue workers, volunteers and victims have been sifting through the rubble in the hardest-hit state of Arkansas, looking for survivors in central Faulkner County where a tornado reduced homes to splinters, snapped power lines and mangled trees.

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said at least 15 people had died statewide in the storm that authorities said produced the first fatalities of this year's tornado season.

Nine of the victims on Sunday came from the same street in Vilonia, a town with a population of about 4,100.

A new middle school set to open in August in the town was heavily damaged by a tractor trailer blown into its roof. A steel farm shop anchored to concrete was blown away.

Governor Beebe recounted how one woman died when the door of her home's reinforced safe room collapsed, while a father and three daughters survived by seeking shelter in a bathtub that was flipped over in winds that leveled the house.

The Arkansas National Guard was deployed to sift through the wreckage. Beebe declared a state of disaster for Faulkner and two other counties.

One person was killed in neighboring Oklahoma and another in Iowa, state authorities said.

A tornado in Baxter Springs, Kansas, that touched down on Sunday evening destroyed as many as 70 homes and 25 businesses and injured 34 people of whom nine were hospitalized, state and county officials said. One person was killed in Kansas, likely due to the same storm system, officials said.

The National Weather Service said the threat of tornadoes will last for several days as a strong weather system interacts with a large area of unstable air across the central and southern United States.

'LONG ROAD TO HEALING'

"Everything is just leveled to the ground," Vilonia resident Matt Rothacher said. "It cut a zig-zag right through town."

Rothacher was at home with his wife and four children when the tornado passed through. While his home survived, The Valley Church where he serves as pastor was flattened.

Two elementary school-aged boys died in their home after having a pizza dinner at a friend's home, said Rothacher, who was helping provide grief counseling to the family that had sent the two boys home after they finished their meal as the storm approached.

The home that the boys left survived the tornado. The home the boys returned to did not, Rothacher said.

"These homes, these lives, won't be put back together anytime soon. It will be a long road to healing for these families."

The White House said President Barack Obama, who has been on a trip abroad, called Beebe to receive an update on the damage and to offer condolences.

Medical officials reported at least 100 people in Arkansas were injured.

"I've never seen destruction like this before," U.S. Representative Tim Griffin told reporters after touring Vilonia, which was previously hit by a tornado about three years ago. "I saw a Dr. Seuss book in the rubble. I saw a Spider-Man shirt in the rubble. It just breaks your heart."

(Additional reporting by Emily LeCoz in Oxford, Mississippi, Steve Barnes and Suzi Parker in Little Rock, Arkansas, Verna Gates in Birmingham, Kevin Gray in Miami; Writing by Jon Herskovitz and David Adams; Editing by Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum, Chris Reese, Cynthia Osterman, Ken Wills, and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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AOL9.7 April 28 2014 at 7:37 PM

Mother Nature has not been kind.
Prayers for the ones affected by the tornado,
may the rest of be thankful we were safe.

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1 reply
Arcturus111 AOL9.7 April 28 2014 at 8:33 PM

WHY OH WHY WOULD ANYONE LIVE IN THOSE PLACES. THEY KNOW IT WILL HAPPEN. IN CALIFORNIA THEIR ARE EARTHQUACKS BUT NOT TERRIBLE ONES EVERY YEAR. DON'T UNDERSTAND.

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2 replies
hi beautiful Arcturus111 April 28 2014 at 9:16 PM

where do you live.

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Kat Arcturus111 April 28 2014 at 10:10 PM

Name a place where Mother Nature does nothing, no storms, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.

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charliegirl55 April 28 2014 at 8:50 PM

My Prayers go out to those in the Tornado areas, I guess California Earthquakes are the alternative for me.

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1 reply
Kat charliegirl55 April 28 2014 at 10:04 PM

I prefer the earthquakes.

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smittyd52 April 29 2014 at 1:20 AM

I lived in Holland, Arkansas from 1972 - 1977, and in Conway from 1977 - 1982. That's close to Vilonia, [my son went to school there in 1979] and to Mayflower, too close ! I had a funnel cloud pass overhead once, and it touched down about 6 miles away. I NEVER want to experience that again. My heart goes out to all these people who lost loved ones and homes, and all their things. I pray that God will give them the strength to recover and help them find a way to get through the sadness and pain.

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Val April 29 2014 at 1:10 AM

This breaks my heart. Mega prayers for them, please ALL pray for them and their safety!

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1 reply
Arif Val April 29 2014 at 3:43 AM

I suppose I could have chosen any posting with a similar message to reply to but for some reason I picked yours...It's a kind and sincere thought Val. But I don't know if I'll ever really come to terms with the fact that the one you're praying to is who allowed it to happen in the first place. Whatever the justification or explanation is for that, so many people suffer whether they prayed or not, whether they believed or not, whether they loved God, were unbelievers, or were somewhere in between. I too hope these victims and survivors find peace in this life or the next, but I'm not counting on much help from "above".

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Blessed April 29 2014 at 12:55 AM

Those poor people! Why can't builders make houses in tornado areas to withstand the winds they know are coming every Spring?! And the part about the two little boys who were sent home before the storms came, only to end up being in the house that got demolished; heartbreaking! My Prayers go out to all of the people affected by the storms. I suppose the last thing they need is some amature do-gooder like myself to come driving through trying to help so hopefully the news will start giving us phone numbers and addresses of local organizations who are accepting donations of aid for the victims. If anyone has this information, please post it and re-post it often? Thanks!

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2 replies
Elizabeth Blessed April 29 2014 at 1:00 AM

The Red Cross is always one organization that shows up. At least, in those areas where there is a Red Cross.

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niiro Blessed April 29 2014 at 1:54 AM

I often wonder about people not making houses to withstand tornadoes myself, and I live about 20 to 30 miles from where one of the tornadoes hit and about 60 to 80 miles where the tornado in Tupelo hit. I consider myself fortunate that it missed me. If I had any say, most houses would either be domes or built into hills. Domes are a lot more wind resistant than normal houses and tornadoes usually go over hills. The best answer might be a dome house built into a hill.

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1 reply
wb7ptr niiro April 29 2014 at 2:22 AM

I lived in Homestead, Fl. around the time Hurricane Andrew came through, and I drove through one area a couple of weeks after where all the houses were rubble. Except for one. Someone had built a geodesic dome house and it survived. I learned that just about all of them did. Not a bad idea at all.

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Elbio April 29 2014 at 12:48 AM

May GOD be close and comfort those who lost relatives and property.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
bigred8690 April 29 2014 at 12:17 AM

A friend of mine who moved from California to Tennessee thinks that tornadoes are scarier than earthquakes. She's right. If you are caught out in the open, say on a freeway, during an earthquake that is not so bad. But caught out in the open in the path of a tornado, you are dead.

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2 replies
niiro bigred8690 April 29 2014 at 1:59 AM

Tornadoes are definitely scarier. One reason is they are a lot more frequent but the biggest reason is because they are very unpredictable. You are lucky if you have 15 minutes to get to shelter in a tornado. Most of the tornadoes that hit in Mississippi today were strong EF3s to EF4s save for the one in Louisville. I've seen the video footage of the Louisville tornado and that looked to possibly be an EF5 if not a strong EF4.

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Gayle bigred8690 April 29 2014 at 2:06 AM

Damage is damage. We don't need to rate which is worse - floods, tornados, hurricanes, wild fires, earthquakes. what does it matter when people lose their lives and their property.

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1 reply
niiro Gayle April 29 2014 at 2:33 AM

Will agree on the damage is damage and not rating which is worse. I was saying which I thought was scarier. Granted, I've never been in an earthquake, though.

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automeris1 April 28 2014 at 10:47 PM

Sorry for the folks who lost thier homes or lives in twister alley. Out here on the West Coast, we will either have a major fire or huge earthquake and you will be reading about us one day. Mother nature has total control over all of us. Life can be short so live it to the fullest everyday

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sgentilejr April 29 2014 at 1:15 AM

Our founding fathers named our great nation "the UNITED States of America". It is at times like this when natural disasters strike that we should all be 100% UNITED in helping our fellow Americans any way we can. I believe the best way of helping and getting help directly to were it is needed is through donations to the Voluntary First Aid Squads and Volunteer Fire companies in the areas that have been devastated by these storms. We should always stand indivisible and united in our efforts to reach out and help all of our fellow Americans in need ___ because we never know what type of a natural disaster will strike us where we live next. When Super Storm Sandy struck North Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, NJ, NY, CT over 80% of the Republicans in Congress voted against federal assistance for those states. Let's all hope that the Democrats in Congress do not also play childish political games with people's lives and instead they vote to get these people and towns all of the federal help they need as quickly as possible.

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2 replies
mm3rdeye sgentilejr April 29 2014 at 1:43 AM

I wonder if our founding fathers were considering their slaves when thy named it UNITED States of America.

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1 reply
RJCROWFOOT mm3rdeye April 29 2014 at 4:22 AM

people who use such tragedies to further their race card agenda are acting dispicably , are often racists themselfs and opportunist... who was it that said " lets not waste a perfectly good tragedy".

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jchowell3657 sgentilejr April 29 2014 at 1:55 AM

So are you really evil and twisted enough to call for unity, then turn a tragedy into a partisan attack? Go to HELL. All the best to the victims of the storms.

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1 reply
RJCROWFOOT jchowell3657 April 29 2014 at 4:24 AM

jc i too share in your anger at the dispicable reply of mm3 , however i wouldn't wish hell on my worst enemy

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ricshort April 29 2014 at 12:15 AM

Grace-river.com in Norman OK takes donations to provide counseling to tornado traumatized children. They can't sleep at night, afaid of thunder. Individual and group sessions are free to the children.

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