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Archive for Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Guardsmen return to help in hometown

May 7, 2003

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— National Guardsmen bound for Iraq returned instead Tuesday to their tornado-flattened hometown of Pierce City to help clean up splintered homes and businesses and check on their loved ones after twisters killed at least 40 people in three states.

One person was still listed as missing Tuesday in this southwestern Missouri town.

The death toll reached 18 in Missouri with the discovery of a child's body outside Pierce City, and rose to 15 in Tennessee after a man was found dead in a field near Jackson. The storms Sunday night also were blamed for at least seven deaths in Kansas.

Severe weather returned to both Kansas and Missouri Tuesday afternoon, as the National Weather Service issued tornado warnings for 14 counties.

Several tornadoes were reported in Missouri and Kansas as a storm system moved across the region Tuesday afternoon and evening.

Damage was minimal in most areas compared to Sunday's storms, but there were reports of downed trees and power lines. Several buildings also were damaged, including concrete grain bins and a metal shed in Sedalia, Mo.

There also were reports of minor flooding and golf-ball sized hail in the Versailles and Rocky Mount areas.

And the Maries County Sheriff's Department reported that at least three twisters touched down in the area, damaging so many trees that emergency equipment was having a hard time getting through.

Members of the Missouri National Guard's 203rd Engineering Battalion had been at the Army's Fort Leonard Wood, about 75 miles from Pierce City, working on paperwork for their deployment to Iraq, when their cell phones started ringing with calls about the tornado.

One of the Pierce City buildings destroyed Sunday night was the National Guard Armory, where many of the soldiers had trained and where some residents sought shelter during the storm. A large part of the building collapsed, killing one person.

On Tuesday, many of the unit's soldiers were taking personal leave to help in their hometown, said Capt. Gerald Green, a company commander. They are still expected to leave for Iraq in a few weeks to help repair war damage.

"To be honest, Baghdad looks better than Pierce City," Green said.

National Guard Sgt. Ray Wormington said his mother's house was destroyed.

"We're the land of the plenty. We take it for granted," Wormington said. "At the same time, our town is becoming a ghost town, but we're fighting for a good cause."

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