Arkansas couple died trying to shield daughter from twister

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Crews Search for Missing After Deadly Tornadoes


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Melissa and Michael Mooneyhan met as teenagers who attended different high schools. The two quickly fell in love and were married in 2004, even before they graduated.

More than a decade later, the pair died shielding their young daughter from a tornado as the twister chewed up the family's mobile home in Nashville, Arkansas.

The trailer "was just picked up and flipped over," said Howard County Coroner John Gray, who said the home looked "like it had exploded." He said it was "a miracle that little girl survived."

"That poor little girl is never going to know them," he added. "But she's young enough that she'll never remember what happened."

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Weather - south dakota, texas, carolinas, arkansas - tornado, tornadoes
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Arkansas couple died trying to shield daughter from twister
VAN, TX - MAY 11: Residents walk along storm damage along Pennsylvania Street after a tornado May 11, 2015 in Van, Texas. The small city of Van, Texas was struck by a tornado in the evening of May 10, leaving at least two dead and more missing. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Downed tree and debris from Van, Texas is scattered around the town Monday, May 11, 2015, after severe weather pushed through the area in the early morning hours. Emergency responders searched through splintered wreckage Monday after a line of tornadoes battered several small communities in Texas and Arkansas, killing at least five people. (AP Photos/Todd Yates)
VAN, TX - MAY 11: Residents and volunteers walk over downed power lines along storm damaged Pennsylvania Street after a tornado May 11, 2015 in Van, Texas. The small city of Van, Texas was struck by a tornado in the evening of May 10, leaving at least two dead and more missing. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
VAN, TX - MAY 11: A storm damaged home on Pennsylvania Street is seen after a tornado May 11, 2015 in Van, Texas. The small city of Van, Texas was struck by a tornado in the evening of May 10, leaving at least two dead and more missing. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

David and Brenda Tapley were killed in the tornado that hit Van, Texas on Sunday and when family members searched through the wreckage on Tuesday, they found the family bible lying in the rubble open to a very special page.

Debris is tangled up in power lines around the Van, Texas, area after severe weather moved through the area Monday, May 11, 2015. Emergency responders searched through splintered wreckage Monday after a line of tornadoes battered several small communities in Texas and Arkansas, killing at least five people. (AP Photos/Todd Yates)
VAN, TX - MAY 11: An uprooted tree lies on a playground near J.E. Rhodes Elementary School after a tornado May 11, 2015 in Van, Texas. The small city of Van, Texas was struck by a tornado in the evening of May 10, leaving at least two dead and more missing. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
VAN, TX - MAY 11: David Hopkins (L) clears debris as his brother Michael Hopkins (2nd L) surveys damage from the roof of his home after a tornado May 11, 2015 in Van, Texas. The small city of Van, Texas was struck by a tornado in the evening of May 10, leaving at least two dead and more missing. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Downed tree and debris from Van, Texas is scattered around the town Monday, May 11, 2015, after severe weather pushed through the area in the early morning hours. Emergency responders searched through splintered wreckage Monday after a line of tornadoes battered several small communities in Texas and Arkansas, killing at least five people. (AP Photos/Todd Yates)
Dozens of Van, Texas, residents walk around the intermediate and elementary schools campuses as they survey the damage from Monday, May 11, 2015 severe weather that moved through the area in the early morning hours. Emergency responders searched through splintered wreckage Monday after a line of tornadoes battered several small communities in Texas and Arkansas, killing at least five people. (AP Photos/Todd Yates)
Residents of Van, Texas, residents walk around the intermediate and elementary schools campuses as they survey the damage from Monday, May 11, 2015 severe weather that moved through the area in the early morning hours. Emergency responders searched through splintered wreckage Monday after a line of tornadoes battered several small communities in Texas and Arkansas, killing at least five people. (AP Photos/Todd Yates)
Van is looking rough this morning. Still waiting to hear details but I've heard there were casualties. Please continue to pray. This is a trampoline.
VAN, TX - MAY 11: Residents clear downed trees from storm damage along Pennsylvania Street after a tornado May 11, 2015 in Van, Texas. The small city of Van, Texas was struck by a tornado in the evening of May 10, leaving at least two dead and more missing. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
VAN, TX - MAY 11: Residents survey storm damage near Pennsylvania Street after a tornado May 11, 2015 in Van, Texas. The small city of Van, Texas was struck by a tornado in the evening of May 10, leaving at least two dead and more missing. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
VAN, TX - MAY 11: Residents walk past a damaged house on storm ravaged Pennsylvania Street after a tornado May 11, 2015 in Van, Texas. The small city of Van, Texas was struck by a tornado in the evening of May 10, leaving at least two dead and more missing. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
VAN, TX - MAY 11: A house sits severely damaged with downed on Pennsylvania Street after a tornado May 11, 2015 in Van, Texas. The small city of Van, Texas was struck by a tornado in the evening of May 10, leaving at least two dead and more missing. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
VAN, TX - MAY 11: David Hopkins clears debris from the storm damaged roof of his brother's home after a tornado May 11, 2015 in Van, Texas. The small city of Van, Texas was struck by a tornado in the evening of May 10, leaving at least two dead and more missing. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
VAN, TX - MAY 11: Brenda Cole (L) and Andrew Cole survey the damage of the their home and garage after a tornado May 11, 2015 in Van, Texas. The small city of Van, Texas was struck by a tornado in the evening of May 10, leaving at least two dead and more missing. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
VAN, TX - MAY 11: Barbara Brown of Van, Texas rests against a wall outside a Red Cross Shelter with a dog named Cujo, at the First Baptist Church after a tornado May 11, 2015 in Van, Texas. The small city of Van, Texas was struck by a tornado in the evening of May 10, leaving at least two dead and more missing. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
VAN, TX - MAY 11: Volunteers and officials search through the destruction near Van Intermediate School after a tornado May 11, 2015 in Van, Texas. The small city of Van, Texas was struck by a tornado in the evening of May 10, leaving at least two dead and more missing. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
VAN, TX - MAY 11: Volunteers and officials search through the destruction near Van Intermediate School after a tornado May 11, 2015 in Van, Texas. The small city of Van, Texas was struck by a tornado in the evening of May 10, leaving at least two dead and more missing. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Residents survey damage near an elementary school, caused by severe weather, Monday, May 11, 2015, in Van, Texas. About 30 percent of the community was damaged from the storm late Sunday, according to Chuck Allen, fire marshal and emergency management coordinator for Van Zandt County. (AP Photo/Todd Yates)
Grace Santo, 14, holds hands with her mother, Vista, right, as they survey severe weather damage at an elementary school, Monday, May 11, 2015, in Van, Texas. About 30 percent of the community was damaged from the storm late Sunday, according to Chuck Allen, fire marshal and emergency management coordinator for Van Zandt County. (AP Photo/Todd Yates)
Residents survey damage to an elementary school caused by severe weather, Monday, May 11, 2015, in Van, Texas. About 30 percent of the community was damaged from the storm late Sunday, according to Chuck Allen, fire marshal and emergency management coordinator for Van Zandt County. (AP Photo/Todd Yates)
A vehicle sits damaged under downed trees from severe weather, Monday, May 11, 2015, in Van, Texas. About 30 percent of the community was damaged from the storm late Sunday, according to Chuck Allen, fire marshal and emergency management coordinator for Van Zandt County. (AP Photo/Todd Yates)
Residents survey damage near an elementary school, caused by severe weather, Monday, May 11, 2015, in Van, Texas. About 30 percent of the community was damaged from the storm late Sunday, according to Chuck Allen, fire marshal and emergency management coordinator for Van Zandt County. (AP Photo/Todd Yates)
Map locates Van, Texas and Nashville Arkansas where tornadoes were responsible for at least five deaths; 1c x 2 1/4 inches; 46.5 mm x 57 mm;
A street sign at the intersection of Hwy 377 and Mosscreek Drive lies on the ground after a possible tornado touched down in the Bent Creek Estates neighborhood in Denton, Texas, on Sunday, May 10, 2015. (Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)
Mark Johnston helps his friend Jason Farris put his fence back up after a possible tornado touched down in their neighborhood in Denton, Texas, on Sunday, May 10, 2015. (Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)
Jason Olsen clears a downed tree blocking his driveway after a possible tornado touched down in his neighborhood in Denton, Texas, on Sunday, May 10, 2015. (Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)
News crews are out covering the devastation. #tornado #van
Cars destroyed by #VanTornado in Texas. 10 people unaccounted for #FoxNews http://t.co/16CW8mPATX
First tornado caught in Eads, Colorado. Perfect set up! Caught 4 different tornadoes from this storm! #tornado #severeweather #colorado
Third larger tornado caught in Eads, Colorado. Perfect set up! Caught 4 different tornadoes from this storm! #tornado #severeweather #colorado
#tornado #texas #ciscotexas #i20 #crazy
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The Mooneyhans were among five people killed after a line of powerful tornadoes battered several small communities in Texas and Arkansas. Three people died in Texas. Scores of others were hurt, some critically.

The girl, who is about 18 months old, was taken to the hospital and later released to relatives.

Polly McCammack, who also lives in Nashville, is Melissa's third cousin. A week ago, she said, the close-knit family lost their grandmother who "practically raised" Melissa and her siblings.

"The family has been hit hard. They're strong, but it's almost like to the point you're afraid to breathe," McCammack said.

Michael Mooneyhan worked in the deli department of the local Wal-Mart. Melissa was a stay-at-home mom doting on their daughter.

"That baby was definitely their life. They considered her their greatest blessing. You couldn't find two parents who loved a child more," McCammack said. "She's going to grow up knowing family and knowing love."

Family members went to the site of the destroyed home looking for mementos, toys and anything else they could salvage for the child, McCammack said.

The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado with a preliminary EF2 rating and winds estimated at 125 mph touched down in Nashville, a city of 4,500 people about 125 miles southwest of Little Rock.

During Sunday's first tornado warning, the county's tornado sirens sounded for so long that the battery was drained, Howard County Emergency Management Coordinator Sonny Raulerson said.

When a second warning was issued for about 16 miles south of Nashville, the sirens could not be activated, Raulerson said.

In neighboring Texas, a tornado pummeled the small city of Van, damaging or destroying 50 to 100 homes and killing two people, according to Chuck Allen, fire marshal and emergency management coordinator for Van Zandt County.

For much of the day, eight people were unaccounted for in Van, population 2,600, about 70 miles southeast of Dallas.

Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Jean Dark said late Monday night that everyone on the missing list had been accounted for. However, she said that just to be safe, cadaver dogs were checking the area.

Officials confirmed that the tornado was an EF3, with winds from 135 mph to 140 mph, Allen said.

Rescuers went door to door amid the widespread damage, which included trees uprooted and numerous homes and buildings flattened or ripped apart.

At least 42 people were injured, according to two East Texas hospitals. Four patients were in critical condition.

James Crawford and his wife, Thelma, rode out the storm in their mobile home in the area with some of Van's worst damage.

They were in bed and did not have time to run, she said. All she could do was roll over and give her husband a bear hug while they held on.

Thelma Crawford said she believes the home lifted off the ground a bit, then came back down.

"We're like family in that neighborhood," she said. "When one of them gets hurt, I hurt."

In some cases, the fronts of homes were sheared off, revealing living room furniture tossed in a jumble. Houses were spray painted with an X to indicate they had been searched by emergency workers.

Kimberli Shane held a muddy hand to her forehead as she watched friends and neighbors salvage furniture from the home she rented.

"All I could really hear was the house pulling apart," she said. "And my son saying, 'Oh, no, it's right over us.'"

Preliminary reports indicate 20 to 25 tornadoes formed Sunday in South Dakota, Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas, according to meteorologist Greg Carbin of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

"This is certainly not an atypical system for spring where you've got the remnants of winter but the onset of summer," Carbin said.

The same storm system dumped 11 inches of rain in some places and caused widespread flooding. Firefighters in Corsicana, Texas, 60 miles southwest of Van, recovered the body of a driver who had ventured into the floodwaters after his vehicle stalled in a swollen creek.

The heavy rain caused a huge sinkhole to open up in Granbury, some 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth. The 40-foot-wide sinkhole swallowed the parking lot of a supermarket and damaged water and sewer lines beneath, WFAA-TV reported.

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