Vicious storms blast southern US

As deadly twisters destroy homes, property from Arkansas to the Carolinas -- disaster response organizations begin to aid survivors.

BY VICKI DESORMIER | MENA, AR | April 10, 2009

"Some people are just trying to find if there’s anything left."

—Jan Puckett, Mena United Methodist Church 

Vicious storms struck across the south Thursday and Friday, leaving a path of death and destruction from Arkansas to the Carolinas.

Some of the worst damage occurred Thursday night in Mena, AR, a town of 5,000, 10 miles from the Oklahoma border where at least three people were killed and hundreds of homes were damaged.

Another deadly storm hit a residential area of Murfreesboro, TN, Friday killing at least two people and injuring more than 30 others.

Disaster response organizations including Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and The United Methodist Committee on Relief were responding to aid survivors on Friday.

In Mena, tornado warning sirens sounded three times Thursday as twisters pushed through the northern and southern parts of town, crushing a middle school, industrial buildings and even the city hall and county court house. A Presbyterian church was also badly damaged.

The storm moved rapidly through the residential area of town less than a minute after the fourth blast blared.

“It moved so fast that most people didn’t have time to react,” said James Reeves, emergency management coordinator for Polk County. “It was fast and strong. I’m sure everyone heard the sirens, but it was fast.”

Because the storm came through at night, much of the damage was not fully known until after sunrise Friday. A door-to-door search of the homes and business as the new day dawned revealed no other fatalities as a result of the storm.

Jan Puckett, a secretary at Mena United Methodist Church said power was out throughout the region and many buildings, including the church, were damaged. Assessments are continuing.

“People are picking up pieces,” she said. “Some people are just trying to find if there’s anything left.”

“It was an awful storm,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Arkansans are no strangers to tornadoes, though. Dozens of twisters move through the state every year, but many said Thursday’s storm was exceptionally powerful, causing more intense damage than they have seen in the past.

The violent weather was part of a system that caused damage throughout the South and the Midwest. According to a statement issued by the National Weather Service, one woman in Shreveport, LA, was injured when a tree was uprooted and crushed her car as a tornado touched down there. Twisters also damaged homes in Vinta and in Muse, OK, and at Crossett in extreme southern Arkansas, near the Louisiana state line.

Meanwhile in Florida, a storm system that moved through last weekend was continuing to wreak havoc in the panhandle and the northern part of the state. Flood warnings have been issued in 22 counties in those parts of the state. Gov. Charlie Crist is seeking federal aid for those counties. A series of storms in those north Florida counties, which caused rivers, including the Suwannee, the Withlacoochee and the Alpha, to overflow, has produced record floods that are at least as bad as those caused by Tropical Storm Fay in August 2008.

Officials at the Florida Department of Transportation reported 24 bridges and 240 roads were closed including U.S. Highway 90 at the Suwannee River. Flood waters continue to threaten Interstate 10, the major east-west route across north Florida, but so far the DOT has been able to keep the road open.



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