4 dead as heavy storms push through Midwest
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Thunderstorms packing winds gusting to 120 mph pounded parts of the Midwest on Friday, leaving four people dead, collapsing a church and knocking out power to thousands, authorities said.
Two people were killed near Poplar Bluff, Mo., when wind knocked a tree onto their car. In Dallas County, a man in his 70s had a fatal heart attack after he and his wife were sucked from their home and thrown into a field 75 to 100 feet away, said county emergency management director Larry Highfill.
The wife was taken to a Springfield hospital. Her condition wasn’t immediately known.
A 54-year-old woman was killed in southeast Kansas when the mobile home she was in was blown off its foundation. Wilson County emergency management spokeswoman Cassandra Edson said it appears the mobile home was “wrapped around a tree.”
Wind in the area reached 120 mph, destroying the New Albany United Methodist Church, the town’s post office and at least one home, authorities said. Major damage also was reported to a high school in Cherokee, Kan.
National Weather Service offices in Springfield, Mo., and St. Louis received multiple reports of tornadoes from one end of Missouri to the other, mostly south of Interstate 44. The weather service sent out teams to determine if tornadoes had touched down.
Many counties reported wind of 80 mph and higher. Several people were hurt, mostly when wind damaged their homes or businesses, but a few from flash floods.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency.
“My primary concern is the safety of Missourians and this executive order makes state agency resources available to help communities respond to the storms,” Nixon said.
The storm system ransacked southern Illinois as well, peeling siding and roofs off homes and other buildings, blowing out car windows and tearing up trailer parks. About 52,000 Ameren customers were without power around 3:30 p.m., according to the utility company’s Web site.
A truck driver who had to be extricated from an overturned semitrailer was in serious condition after a “major trauma,” said Rosslynd Rice, a spokeswoman for Southern Illinois Healthcare.
About six other patients with minor injuries were being treated at Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, she said.
“It tore the hell out of things,” said Calvin Brown at the Cherry Street Pub in Herrin, a town of about 11,000 residents east of Carbondale. “It was wicked. I haven’t seen that in a long time.”
Carbondale Township Fire Capt. Mark Black said he wasn’t sure if a tornado touched down in his area but the “winds were just amazing. They were howling and the siding on the trailers was flying through the air and there was a pretty hard rain.”
Law enforcement agencies reported tornado touchdowns in the Jackson County community of Raddle and just south of Pinckneyville in Perry County, National Weather Service meteorologist Amy Seeley said.
Seeley said the strong line of thunderstorms began moving through the region Friday morning. Wind gusts in the Carbondale area reached 100 mph around 1:30 p.m., and sustained winds were as high as 90 mph.
Carbondale resident Eric Fidler said he rode out the storm in a basement room with his wife, 22-month-old daughter and their dog.
When they emerged, dozens of large, old trees had been snapped throughout his neighborhood — including an old oak blocking his front door — but there was little damage to homes. Even the cushions on his patio furniture were undisturbed.
“I was talking to a neighbor and saying, ‘This is just incredible. Everywhere I look, there are enormous trees down, but it missed everybody’s house,’” said Fidler, who walked a mile to the hardware store for a chain saw.
David Gugerty, 28, a graduate student at Southern Illinois University, said a tree crushed his car and a branch tore through the roof of his trailer, coming to rest atop his refrigerator.
“I’m sitting in the trailer park trying to decide which way to run,” Gugerty said.
In sparsely populated Dallas County, Mo., seven other people were also hurt as wind destroyed 50 homes. Highfill said all the damaged homes were in the same path, a strong hint that a tornado was to blame.
The storm system left tens of thousands without power, including — at the peak — 60,000 customers in the Joplin area. Hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed.
In St. Francois County, 911 director Alan Wells said several people suffered moderate injuries from wind damage at their homes. Roofs were torn off of many homes and businesses. A tractor-trailer overturned on U.S. 67 near Park Hills.
Wind wasn’t the only problem. Many parts of Missouri received 3 inches of rain or more. Flash flooding forced authorities to rescue several people from cars and homes in St. Francois County. Flash flooding also closed roads from Springfield through Cape Girardeau.
In Joplin, strong winds toppled a big section of KSNF-TV’s tower shortly after 7 a.m., crushing a vehicle and damaging two homes. It appeared no one was hurt.
Keith Johnston told The Joplin Globe he was not at home when the tower collapsed, but his wife and two kids were.
“My wife said she heard the wind come up and got the kids into the closet,” he said. “They heard a booming noise and thought the tower fell.”
About a dozen homes in Laclede County were destroyed or had major damage, emergency director Jonathan Ayres said.
“It does look tornadic from the surveys we have done,” Ayres said. “Right now, we’re just trying to help these people salvage what they can before dark.”
Flooding caused widespread problems in Laclede County, shutting down several roads and washing away part of a railroad track.
Dan Wadlington, a spokesman for Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said roofs were damaged at two high schools near Springfield, at the towns of Ash Grove and Fair Grove. He said Blunt was prepared to seek federal aid if the damage was significant.
Storm spotters said a house in the Springfield area was flattened. An air-conditioning unit was blown off the roof of a Wal-Mart Superstore near Kimberling City, damaging the roof.
Fredericktown, about 85 miles southwest of St. Louis, reported damage to several businesses. Another eastern Missouri town, Potosi, reported baseball-sized hail.
Several communities — Joplin, Buffalo, Willard, Elkland among them — opened shelters for those left homeless by the storms.