More than 20 killed in tornado outbreak

Hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed, 20-blocks of OK town devastated as twisters hit from Oklahoma to Georgia


More than 20 people were killed Saturday evening as a strong line of severe storms and tornadoes rushed across the mid-South, destroying and damaging hundreds of homes and leaving a wide path of destruction in its wake.

Some of the worst damage, and most of the deaths, were reported in northeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Missouri. It was the deadliest tornado outbreak in Oklahoma since May 3, 1999, when 44 people were killed in that state.

In Picher, a confirmed EF 3 tornado ripped through a 20 square block of town, killing at least six residents but many were still missing and many more are injured. While "night sun" lights were brought in once darkness fell over the town near the Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas border, and searching was expected to continue all night, the true picture probably won't be known until later in the day Sunday.

"They're not going to stop search and rescue overnight," explained Michelann Ooten, public information for the Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management. "There is terrible devastation and we don't have fast numbers on the number of missing yet."

Picher was once a thriving mine town, but it is now a rural city of about 1,600 residents at the edge of a 40 square mile Superfund site, where acid, a by-product of the lead and zinc once mined there, have turned the Tar Creek red. Ooten said she didn't know if the environmental hazards would be made worse by the tornado damage.

The small town of Quapaw, OK, also close to the Superfund area, was closed to nonresidents Saturday night due to the extent of the damages there.

The National Guard has been called out in order to secure the perimeters of the damage areas and the Superfund area to keep injuries from occurring with unauthorized people entering.

The National Weather Service reported that an upper low and a subtropical jet turned spawned strong storms across the lower Plains states and into the South.

According to Bill Davis with the National Weather Service in Springfield, MO, the apparent tornado that struck Newton County was on the ground for a number of miles, beginning in Kansas, crossing into Missouri, leaving a "wide path with a lot of houses destroyed or damaged."

Newton County Sheriff, Ken Copeland, said the tornadoes "absolutely leveled many homes."

At least 10 people died in southwestern Missouri after the storms plowed through, Susie Stonner, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Emergency Management, reported. Most of the deaths and injuries occurred along the Interstate 44 corridor that connects Oklahoma with the St. Louis, MO, area.

"The injuries and fatalities occurred in Jasper, Newton and Barry counties," Stonner said. "It's a very, very rural area."

Stonner said the Missouri Highway Patrol was coordinating with fire-rescue agencies in the area to form search and rescue teams that will work overnight and throughout the day on Sunday. She said high winds are still blowing throughout the region which may hamper some of the overnight searches.

Trent Myers, the public information officer for the McAlester OK Emergency Management Agency said the tornado touched down again. While three houses were destroyed, there were no injuries and no fatalities.

"We were very lucky. This storm took out three homes, but no one was killed or hurt here by that storm that killed so many other people not very far from here," he said.

In Arkansas, where natural disasters ranging from snow and ice to flooding and more tornadoes have already practically worn out emergency workers and disaster responders, a tornado collapsed a house and a commercial building in Bentonville said National Weather Service meteorologist John Robinson.

Severe storms also hit near Stuttgart, Arkansas, where emergency responders said the storms damaged a number of homes and businesses. Several people were reported to be trapped in the rubble Saturday night.

Sunday morning, damaging tornadoes were reported in Georgia.

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