PIEDMONT, Okla. – Violent storms rumbled through the central U.S. on Wednesday, spawning tornadoes that turned homes into splintered wreckage, killing at least 14 people over two days and hampering rescue efforts in a city slammed by a massive twister days earlier.
The new cluster of storms, which followed a system that spawned the massive twister that killed more than 120 people in Joplin, Mo., on Sunday, moved into the Oklahoma City area Tuesday evening as worried commuters rushed home.
Several tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma City and its suburbs, killing at least eight people and injuring at least 70 others, authorities said. Among those killed was a 15-month-old boy, and searchers were looking for his missing 3-year-old brother.
The storms killed two people in Kansas and four in Arkansas, and may have killed a man in Texas whose burned body was found near a downed power line.
A storm advancing from the south set off tornado sirens in and around Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday. At least two weak tornadoes touched down in or near the suburbs of Overland Park and Harrisonville, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or significant damage, meteorologist Julie Adolphson said.
A twister also touched down in the city of Sedalia, 75 miles east of Kansas City, damaging several stores and causing minor injuries, authorities said.
Four possible tornadoes may have touched down Wednesday in southern and central Illinois, but they caused little damage and only minor injuries, authorities said. The weather service warned that a wave of more powerful storms could hit the state later Wednesday.
The storms were centered over Missouri and Arkansas and Illinois Wednesday afternoon and moving westward into Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and northern Mississippi. Heavy rain and strong winds were forecast for most of the region, and the weather service placed parts of all those states under a tornado watch.
After roaring through Oklahoma, the deadly storm system moved into western Arkansas late Tuesday night, bringing with it a tornado that touched down in several small communities over the span of an hour, flattening or damaging houses and scattering debris before dissipating at about 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Winery owner Eugene Post, 83, said he watched from the porch of his home outside of Denning as the tornado advanced on the tiny community. The lights flickered, then died out, leaving him listening in the darkness to the rattle of hail and the twister’s deafening din.
“I didn’t see anything,” Post said. “I could hear it real loud though.”
Brenda Murders and her husband rode out the tornado in their mobile home in Denning after her daughter called to wake and warn them.
“We jumped up, got as far as the kitchen. There was wind and hail, it destroyed the trailer.”
The trailer was still standing, though the roof and wall panels had been peeled away.
Her daughter, Teresa Day, who rents out mobile homes in Denning with her husband, said all their tenants survived.
“I don’t know how, they don’t know how. But they did,” Day said.
The tornado killed one person each in the towns of Denning, Bethlehem, Strawberry and Etna, authorities said. John Lewis, a senior forecaster at the weather service’s office in Little Rock, said new tornadoes were expected to develop later Wednesday in northeastern Arkansas, southeastern Missouri, and the western parts of Kentucky and Tennessee.
A rural fire station in Franklin County was left without a roof as emergency workers tended to the wounded. Downed trees and power lines tossed across roadways also slowed search-and-rescue crews’ efforts.
Renee Preslar, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, said the threat of more severe weather could delay efforts to assess storm damage.
The twisters that struck the Oklahoma City area killed five people in Canadian County, two in Logan County and one in Grady County, said Cherokee Ballard, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office. A weather-monitoring site in El Reno recorded 151 mph winds.
A tornado destroyed most of two subdivisions in Piedmont, 20 miles northwest of Oklahoma City, throwing vehicles around like toys tossed from a stroller.
Mayor Valerie Thomerson said searchers were looking for a 3-year-old boy whose 15-month-old brother was killed and whose mother and another sibling were seriously injured.
“My husband and I were driving around yesterday and went past a house and there was a vehicle in the pond in the front yard. The only way I could tell it was a vehicle was I could see four wheels above the water. It was a crushed ball,” Thomerson said Wednesday.
“We have anything from houses that have shingles blown off, to half the house missing, to the house being completely wiped out, gone,” Thomerson said.
Some residents said they had been warned about the impending weather for days and were watching television or listening to the radio so they would know when to take cover.
“We live in Oklahoma and we don’t mess around,” Lori Jenkins said. “We kept an eye on the weather and knew it was getting close.”
She took refuge with her husband and two children in a neighbor’s storm shelter in the Oklahoma City suburb of Guthrie. When they emerged, they discovered their carport had been destroyed and the back of their home was damaged.
At Chickasha, 25 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, a 26-year-old woman died when a tornado hit a mobile home park where residents had been asked to leave, Assistant Police Chief Elip Moore said. A dozen people were injured and hundreds were displaced, he said.
In Kansas, police said two people died when high winds threw a tree into their van around 6 p.m. near the small town of St. John, about 100 miles west of Wichita. The highway was shut down because of storm damage.
In Texas, authorities were awaiting a medical examiner’s ruling about what killed a man whose burned body was found lying near downed power lines at an apartment complex near downtown Dallas, Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans said Wednesday. Severe thunderstorms, funnel clouds and hail the size of tennis balls bombarded the Dallas and Fort Worth areas Tuesday night.
In Joplin, Mo., late-night tornado sirens sent residents scurrying for cover, briefly hampering the painstaking search for survivors of Sunday’s twister before brushing past the city without causing serious problems. Sunday’s storm was the nation’s eighth-deadliest twister among records dating to 1840.