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Powerful storms, tornadoes kill 16 in 3 states


VILONIA, Ark. (AP) -- Emergency officials searched for survivors Monday in the debris left by a powerful tornado that killed at least 14 people in Arkansas and carved an 80-mile path of destruction through suburban Little Rock.

The tornado that slammed into Vilonia, just north of the state's capital city, grew to about half a mile wide Sunday and was among a rash of tornadoes and strong storms that rumbled across the Midwest and South. The National Weather Service warned that more tornadoes, damaging winds and very large hail would strike Monday in parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana.

"We don't have a count on injuries or missing. We're trying to get a handle on the missing part," Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said Monday. "Just looking at the damage, this may be one of the strongest we have seen."

An earlier toll of 16 was changed to 14 after it was clear that two victims were counted twice, Arkansas governor's aide Matt DeCample said, though he still expects the overall death toll to rise.

Brandon Morris, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, said crews were sifting through the rubble in the hope of uncovering survivors and to assess the damage.

"Right now, the main focus is life safety," Morris said. "We're trying to make sure everyone is accounted for."

Karla Ault, a Vilonia High School volleyball coach, said she sheltered in the school gymnasium as the storm approached. After it passed, her husband told her their home was reduced to the slab on which it had sat.

"I'm just kind of numb. It's just shock that you lost everything. You don't understand everything you have until you realize that all I've got now is just what I have on," Ault said.

The tornado that hit Vilonia and nearby Mayflower would likely be rated as the nation's strongest to date this year, as it has the potential to be at least an EF3 storm, which has winds greater than 136 mph, National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Hood said.

In southeastern Iowa, a woman was killed when either a tornado or powerful straight-line winds caused a farm building to collapse. Another twister killed a person in Quapaw, Okla., before it crossed into Kansas, where it destroyed more than 100 homes and businesses, and injured 25 people in the city of Baxter Springs, according to Kansas authorities.

Sue McBride, a 71-year old retired sewing machinist in Baxter Springs, said she thought the tornado sirens could spell a false alarm. But then she saw and heard the twister approaching. She said debris flew all around as she ran into her home. She hunkered on her knees in her hallway with her head down as the tornado shattered her windows, spraying glass all over her.

"I didn't have one scratch on me and I was fine," McBride said from a Red Cross shelter in the city, where the tornado left a trail of shattered homes, twisted metal and hanging power lines.

The Arkansas twister shredded cars, trucks and 18-wheelers stuck along Interstate 40 north of Little Rock.

Among the ruins was a new $14 million intermediate school that had been set to open this fall.

"There's just really nothing there anymore. We're probably going to have to start all over again," Vilonia Schools Superintendent Frank Mitchell said after surveying what was left of the building.

Late Sunday, emergency workers and volunteers went door-to-door checking for victims and survivors.

"It turned pitch black," said Mark Ausbrooks, who was at his parents' home in Mayflower when the storm arrived. "I ran and got pillows to put over our heads and ... all hell broke loose."

"My parents' home, it's gone completely," he said.

Becky Naylor, 57, of Mayflower, said up to 22 people packed into her storm cellar as the tornado approached.

"People were pulling off the highways and were just running in," said Naylor. Men held the cellar doors tight to prevent the tornado from ripping them apart.

"It sounded like a constant rolling, roaring sound," she said. "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 other time was in 2011, during an EF2 tornado that followed nearly the same path and killed at least four people.

The Arkansas death toll stood at 14 at midday Monday - eight adults and two children in Faulkner County, three people in Pulaski County and one in White County.

President Barack Obama sent his condolences and promised the government would help with the recovery.

Sunday was the third anniversary of a 122-tornado day, which struck parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia and killed 316 people.


Christina Huynh reported from Mayflower. Associated Press writers Jill Bleed and Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock; Kristi Eaton and Tim Talley in Oklahoma City; and Roxana Hegeman in Baxter Springs, Kan., contributed to this report.

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Hi Barb April 28 2014 at 2:07 PM

Looking at the destruction above and on TV it gives me chills. I live in " tornado alley" here in GA. Have been lucky but that can change anytime. What amazes me is the violent unpredictability of a tornado or straight wind . In those photos some structures are totally levelled while across the street they look almost untouched.

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2 replies
Hank Hannah Hi Barb April 28 2014 at 2:33 PM

Barb: Tornado Alley is the areas of West Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. GA gets a few hurricanes, but so do other states of the lower 48. Tornados are bad no matter where you live, but the worst area is the real Tornado Alley.

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2 replies
Hank Hannah Hank Hannah April 28 2014 at 2:34 PM


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Twenty Years Chasing Hank Hannah April 30 2014 at 6:29 AM

I think you are misunderstanding "tornado alley" to some degree. I hope you understand there actually is no single tornado alley, but a couple depending on time of the year, weather patters and other factors. Arkansas statistically falls under both and is well documented and understood to be in Tornado alley by criteria that is commonly accepted to fall under that term. In forecasting and meteorology studies, the term tornado alley has no real meaning or accepted...it is a loose term thrown around and often described as a area where numerous storm systems produce supercell tornadoes, which as you know, are the cells that do the most damage and take the most lives each year. If you want to go by the exact number of tornadoes on the EF scale starting with EF0, the top state is Florida for tornadoes by the number. Now if you look only at supercell tornadoes EF-2 and greater, Arkansas ranks in the top. If you base it off the size of the state, then Texas is at the top..Do some more research

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Chickiepoo Hi Barb April 28 2014 at 3:27 PM

FOR: "Hi Barb".....

RE: your statement:
" ......unpredictability of a tornado or straight wind ....."

"Straight line" winds are ALMOST as bad as tornadoes.... My late Mother lived in a coastal eastern
NC county. She lived in a single wide trailer set on "blocks" and tied down with the required metal
strapping (per code).....

During the "Storm of the Century" in 1993.....she got hit with some "straight line winds".......... When it
was over and done WITH...........

Her trailer was ONLY resting on TWO stacks of blocks..... It had been "pushed" BACK from the
steps about 3 feet. The roof was cracked in 3 places. The frame was bent. The "tongue" (on
the right end) was ON the ground....

The insurance company totaled it. And that was JUST from "straight line winds"......

OH.....and these "straight line" winds did NOT bother Aunt Katie's house next door OR Aunt Lila's
house next to it......

AND you are SO right......they are violent and unpredictable......

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acran2345 April 28 2014 at 1:19 PM

My son and his family live just miles away from Mayflower, they have friends who lost their homes and one was injured. It was very tense here for awhile. The storm missed Conway, but hospital there received injured as did Arkansas Children's Hosp and other Little Rock hospitals. It was a major storm. We know people in Vilonia and the people in this community are wonderful, a tight community. As Gov. Beebe said, the first responders are often other victims. I grew up in Kansas and spent several anxious moments with family in a concrete cellar. TV reporter showed the concrete piece meant to anchor a chain link fence still attached pulled up lying on the ground. Also, saw on tv a vehicle half way embedded in the earth. A 14 million dollar school scheduled to open in the fall is no longer there in Vilonia. Just a reminder how powerful nature is at times. BTW, many in Vilonia have 'fraidy holes after the previous storm that hit there. On the I-40, people were seeking local underground shelter til they were packed solid. Trucks and cars strewn so that they closed it down for several hours in both directions. We, human beings, are so insignificant in the overall of the earth's design, or so we feel when a disaster such as this happens.
I haven't heard yet the EF measurement. Expected to be 3 or more.

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1 reply
missie1430 acran2345 April 28 2014 at 1:45 PM

Wasn't Mayflower hit with a terrible oil spill ? Hope the cleanup is going well !

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fratboylover April 28 2014 at 3:22 PM

May God bless everyone affected by the storms! Godspeed!

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anniekapn April 28 2014 at 4:06 PM

I am sorry for your loss. Annie

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janieturnage April 28 2014 at 1:17 PM

Several years ago, I woke up very early one Sunday morning to a terrible roaring noise. We were on the fringes of a tornado. Scared the dickens out of us and our overnight visitors, and that was not even the main part of the storm. No time to run the other way. Our big problem here on the Mississippi coast is the hurricanes which we usually have time to prepare for. Everybody is usually left with at least emotional upsets as well as the property damage and cleanup. Not really a good time for others to be critical and start petty squabbles. Why not put any extra energy to use and volunteer to help with the cleanup and recovery. You will feel better.

Hope all turns out well.

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1 reply
weakmindedgod janieturnage April 28 2014 at 1:18 PM

yawn your story has become tiresome...

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3 replies
Vaden April 28 2014 at 4:08 PM

DivaDee has it right! If only we would look to the good and not the bad. What is it saying about our country when we the people choose to think negative thoughts about all aspects of life? It is so rewarding and uplifting when you chose to think posative. My 5 year old daughter was crying while laying in bed aftering watching the Wizard Of Oz. When I checked on her she told me she was scared of the bad witch in the movie. I explained that the movie also had a good witch. Think about the good witch and go to bed. So she did!

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cheryl0021756 April 28 2014 at 1:15 PM

My condolences and sympathies to all. Rock the South I hope you will be there for these victims, of 2014.

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johnmarkboyd April 28 2014 at 1:03 PM

Living in tornado alley has the unique and dubious advantage of seeing first hand the devastation and turmoil caused by such horrendous storms. A whole row of homes can be destroyed or just one in the midst of them all. I saw a housed completely stripped down to toothpicks and the home 50 feet away was not even touched by the rubble left huddled in a pile as if there had already been a clean up crew working the site. Families are left broken of spirit and separated from loved ones who were victims of this terrible twister. People rebuild their homes and slowly their lives but nothing and no one can sway their mournful tears. All we can do is pray for healing and hope for a brighter tomorrow.

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coreelectric johnmarkboyd April 28 2014 at 1:21 PM

I hear ya. And also hopefully build themselves a storm cellar.

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nixa.reyes1 April 28 2014 at 1:03 PM

Wow I see people judging others for whats happening in the world today,,,that is mother nature trying to see how much we cant change,But we aren't ,someone already says that that this happennd because these cities allow gay marrieges,how stupid is that?Tornatoes,earthquakes,storms have been around before gay marriges were permited,so stop judging,The things that are happening are all in the bible,read it maybe you will get why things happening May God have mercy on those that are so quick to judge....

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1 reply
manmi1 nixa.reyes1 April 28 2014 at 1:13 PM

To those who would say this is happening because "gay marriage is allowed" I would say that God is punishing the idiots for being bigoted and hating their fellow man. And also, God doesn't want people speaking for him.... he can speak for himself.

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4 replies
cgssnavickas April 28 2014 at 1:02 PM

Nature has a way of being cruel sometimes. My heart goes out to the families.

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