The worst is not over
The death toll following a deadly set of tornadoes that struck the central United States on Sunday night has risen to 18, as 16 people have been found dead in Arkansas, one in Oklahoma and one in Iowa.
The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. noted potential for several strong and long-track tornadoes in the afternoon and evening from central Mississippi to northwest Alabama. Jackson and Tupelo in Mississippi and Huntsville, Ala., are in the highest risk area for severe weather.
Faulkner county Ark., particularly the suburbs of Mayflower and Vilnia, was the hardest hit Sunday. As many as 10 people died there, including two children, and authorities said that at least 150 homes had been destroyed. Rescuers still hoped to find people alive.
The damage in Arkansas may have been wrought by more than one tornado, spawned from a so-called supercell thunderstorm.
“It’s chaos here,” said Vilonia Mayor James Firestone. “Our downtown area seems like it’s completely leveled.”
Firestone went on to say that the “tremendous” damage had turned houses into brick piles, that there were gas lines spewing and a power outage.
At least six shelters were set up in Arkansas to handle dazed survivors. One power company reported that at least 20,000 customers were still without power Monday morning.
“Just looking at the damage, this may be one of the strongest that we’ve seen,” Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said Monday. “And preliminarily- we haven’t done any records checking- but it looks like this is the largest loss of life that we’ve seen in one tornado incident since I’ve been governor.”
Beebe said he suspects it will take days to estimate the total amount of damage, but as of now, the primary focus is on search and rescue efforts and then security “for the rest of the people to ensure that people that don’t need to be messing around in an area where they could loot or something.”
The National Weather Service said it expected the storms in Arkansas to be rated the strongest in the country this year, perhaps as strong as EF-3 on the weather service’s tornado scale. EF-3 twisters pack wind of at least 136 mph.
An Oklahoma county sheriff’s dispatcher reported that one person had died in the town of Quapaw, near the state’s borders with Kansas and Missouri. Fox News also confirmed that another person died when a tornado hit Keokuk County, Iowa.
Ottawa County Emergency Management director Joe Dan Morgan said Quapaw, which has about 900 residents, was heavily damaged by the tornado.
“Looks like about half of town got extensive damage as well as the fire department,” Morgan said.
As of early Monday morning, 30 tornadoes were reported overnight in seven states, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
“The worst is not over, “ said Kevin Roth, and meteorologist for The Weather Channel.
The White House issued a statement in which President Barack Obama promised that the federal government would help in the recovery and praised the heroic efforts of first-responders and neighbors.
“Your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild as long as I takes,” Obama said.
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