At least one person was killed in Tupelo, a city of about 35,000
and birthplace of Elvis Presley. Power was out in much of the city,
where officials imposed an 8 p.m. curfew.
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.
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."
Reginia DeWalt described how she was woken by the tornado roaring
by: "It sounded like a big pressure washer — but worse."
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.
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
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
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Medical officials reported at least 100 people in Arkansas were
One person was killed in neighboring Oklahoma and another in Iowa,
state authorities said.
In Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal declared
a state of emergency in anticipation of the risk of storms in coming
"Georgia is threatened at least through tomorrow and perhaps into
Wednesday," Deal said in an email sent to reporters. "We're prepared
now and we'll be ready for recovery should we, God forbid,
experience tornado damage or flooding."
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 zigzag 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,"
he said. "It will be a long road to healing for these families."
(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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