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Help arrives for twister survivors

Deadly storm system spawns tornadoes, flooding -- hundreds of homes destroyed or damaged from Oklahoma to Virginia


Disaster response volunteers began helping survivors of a deadly tornado outbreak in Oklahoma and Missouri early Sunday even as severe storms and heavy rain raced to the east causing yet more destruction.

"There is not a house that is not damaged," said Ted Hostetler of Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) looking out over Newtonia, MO. MDS volunteers were in Neosho and Newtonia, MO, early Sunday to help survivors.

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 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 tornado that was a half-mile wide in some places ripped through a 20 square block of the town, killing at least seven residents.

According to Oklahoma Emergency Management Agency public information officer Michelann Ooten, about 150 people were injured by flying debris, including cars and roofs that had been sent hurtling into the sky before crashing earthward again.

"It's surreal," Ooten said. "Mismatched things all thrown together are everywhere."

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. Considered one of the most toxic regions of the country, much of the town has been proposed for a government buyout.

The small town of Quapaw, OK, also close to the Superfund area, was also badly damaged by the storms.

Ooten said she didn't know what impact the tornadoes would have to the Superfund site.

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

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."

Not far away near Seneca, MO, 14 more fatalities were reported by noon on Sunday, but rescuers were continuing their search. Several people in Seneca and the surrounding rural areas were reported still missing. About 90 people were treated for injuries related to the storms.

According to Lt. John Hotz, public information officer with the Missouri Highway Patrol, the path of destruction through Newton County, Jasper County and Barry County, is nearly a mile wide in some places and 25 miles long.

"It's a mostly rural area so there are not any big communities in the path, but there (was) lots of damage to houses and businesses in the area," he said.

In Dublin, about 125 miles south of Atlanta, one person was killed as a result of tornaodes that swept throught central Georgia Sunday morning. Flood watches and warnings were posted Sunday night through the Mid-Atlantic states.

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.

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