Archive for Monday, May 12, 2008

Severe weather deals another deadly blow to south, east US

May 12, 2008


A home is reduced to rubble in the shadow of a chat, or mine tailings, pile in Picher, Okla. A tornado on Saturday ripped through the town, which was already largely abandoned because of pollution problems. An estimated 800 people still lived there.

A home is reduced to rubble in the shadow of a chat, or mine tailings, pile in Picher, Okla. A tornado on Saturday ripped through the town, which was already largely abandoned because of pollution problems. An estimated 800 people still lived there.

— Stunned survivors picked through the little that was left of their communities Sunday after tornadoes tore across the Plains and South, killing at least 22 people in three states and leaving behind a trail of destruction and stories of loss.

At least 15 people died in southwestern Missouri. In the fading mining town of Picher, Okla., at least six people were killed, and at least one person died in storms in Georgia.

Susan Roberts, 61, stared at the smashed remains of her classic 1985 Cadillac sitting on her living room floor - the only thing left of her Seneca home. A woman who had apparently sought shelter in the car died there, she said.

"That is what is tearing me up," Roberts said. She had warned the woman - who stopped to change a tire as Roberts and her 13-year-old grandson drove away from the rental house in another car - to escape. The tornado hit just minutes later.

"I'm from Kansas. I grew up watching storms," she said as she walked through the debris. "If I didn't have my grandson with me, I probably wouldn't have left."

The same storm system earlier hit Oklahoma, where at least six people died and 150 people were injured in Picher.

The town, once a bustling lead and zinc mining center of 20,000 that dwindled to about 800 people as families fled lead pollution there, was a surreal scene of overturned cars, smashed homes and mattresses, and twisted metal stuck in the canopy of trees.

"I swear I could see cars floating," said Herman Hernandez, 68. "And there was a roar, louder and louder."

Ed Keheley was headed to town to help Saturday night when he heard a woman screaming. He saw her hand reaching out of debris.

"She was sitting in the bathtub, she had curlers in her hair and she wanted out of there," said Keheley, who along with several others pulled her out.

The area is part of a Superfund site, and residents have been asked to take part in state and federal buyouts in recent years.

"From what I've been able to determine, that wouldn't have any bearing on whether a disaster declaration would come forth," said Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Earl Armstrong.

One storm victim's child was initially reported dead, but state emergency management spokeswoman Michelann Ooten later said the infant was actually alive at a Tulsa hospital.

East Coast damage

As the system moved east on Sunday, one of at least six tornadoes in Georgia killed a person in Dublin, about 120 miles southeast of Atlanta, the National Weather Service said.

Storms later Sunday in North Carolina destroyed several mobile homes, and six people were slightly injured, said Patty McQuillan of the state police. And in South Carolina, a possible tornado damaged several homes, but no injuries were reported, said Charleston County spokeswoman Jennie Davis.

President Bush has talked with governors to express his condolences for the lives lost and to discuss needs for recovery, according to the White House.

"The federal government will be moving hard to help," Bush said.

Death and destruction

In Missouri, the tornado hit the rural area about eight miles north of Seneca and continued east.

Jane Lant climbed over splintered wood to go through the mud-caked remains of her bridal shop.

"I just feel so awful, going through this rubble when they are out looking for bodies," she said as she motioned to the search dogs wandering the field behind her. An unidentified body lay under a blue tarp nearby.

Among the dead were five members of a neighbor's family who had been going to a wedding when the tornado caught their vehicle in front of her store, she said.

Next door, her husband's feed store also lay in shambles. But one bright moment came Sunday when rescuers heard chirping from the mound and found a half-dozen chicks. They had rescued about 100 the night before.

Susie Stonner, spokeswoman for the state Emergency Management Agency, said it was unclear how many homes had been damaged. But she said officials in Newton County, which includes Seneca, had initial estimates of 50 homes damaged or destroyed there.

In storm-weary Arkansas, a tornado caused significant damage in Stuttgart, but no one was seriously injured, said Weather Service meteorologist Joe Goudsward.

Tornadoes killed 13 people in Arkansas on Feb. 5, and another seven were killed in an outbreak May 2. In between was freezing weather, persistent rain and river flooding that damaged homes and has slowed farmers in their planting.


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