Tornadoes swarm towns in Midwest, killing 38
By Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 6, 2003
The relentless barrage of some 80 tornadoes that barreled through the United States' belly on Sunday night not only killed at least 38 people, smashed hundreds of buildings and knocked out power for thousands in eight states.
It also snatched a wood-frame house, with a family of four inside, off its foundation in Cherokee County, Kan., and dumped it in a pasture a quarter-mile away, leaving Julie Green, 50, dead in the rubble.
It toppled an emergency tower in Jackson, Tenn., and damaged the concrete fountain there that memorialized the seven victims of a 1999 twister.
It ripped the roof off Wilson's Creek Baptist Church near Battlefield, Mo., as 35 parishioners huddled in the basement praying and singing, "I've got peace like a river."
Ten people were still missing Monday as searchers using dogs and heavy equipment went from one crumbled home to another.
It was "the most devastating series of tornadoes we've ever had in the state of Missouri," Gov. Bob Holden said after walking the rubble-strewn streets of Pierce City.
The storms were blamed for at least 18 deaths in Missouri, seven in Kansas and 13 in Tennessee, where a single tornado carved a 65-mile path of destruction.
"It's worse than a nightmare," said Stacy Silverwood, whose grandparents were killed by a twister that blew part of their Camden County, Mo., house down a hill and into a pond a half-mile away.
The governors of affected states toured the hardest-hit areas Monday, declaring many of them disaster areas in order to qualify for additional services.TENNESSEE "Downtown Baghdad'
One of the hardest hit areas was Madison County, where 10 people were killed. Rescue crews with cadaver dogs were searching a small lake for a father and son who were missing.
In Jackson, the county seat, streets were blocked by fallen trees, twisted sheets of metal, power lines and bricks. Officials said at least 70 homes east of downtown were destroyed.
Retiree T.E. White, 69, huddled in a closet with his three young grandchildren while a tornado ripped off the front porch and part of his roof.
"I didn't have time to be scared," White said. "When I came out and saw what happened, then I got scared."
A tornado warning was issued 22 minutes before the twister hit. That gave lawyer Joe Byrd plenty of time to get from his office to the basement.
"It's like downtown Baghdad," Byrd said of the damage.
Houses and apartments were damaged, along with two churches, the city's civic center, the West Tennessee Farmer's Market, the main branch of the U.S. Postal Service and the city's law enforcement complex.MISSOURI "Bent but not broken'
In Pierce City, a town of 1,385 that had been on the brink of revival, the storm marched through the historic main street like a horrific parade, knocking out windows and walls, collapsing cars and ceilings and leaving the once picturesque downtown looking like a demolition site.
Staring at the rubble, Janice Flehmer lifted her gaze and couldn't believe what she was seeing: The old metal cross on the steeple of First United Methodist Church was crazily twisted, but it wasn't broken.
"Bent but not broken," said Flehmer, who wiped away a tear. "It's a sign we should be thankful for the little things. Thankful for a new day."
Sunday's storms killed two people here and struck nearly every home and business in the 130-year-old downtown.
A hand-scrawled list on the door of City Hall listed eight people as "possibly missing," but town officials were hopeful they would be found alive.KANSAS Airport shut down
About 80 homes were damaged or destroyed in Crawford County, at least 20 of them in the Franklin area.
"It wiped out a third of the town, I hate to say it," said Eldon Bedene, the county emergency management director.
As the tornado passed near the Kansas Speedway and heavily populated areas north of Kansas City, Kansas City International Airport was shut down for about a half-hour. Employees and passengers were herded into tunnels connecting the terminal to the parking garage. Flights resumed soon after the tornado missed.ELSEWHERE
The storms were part of a huge weather system that also spawned twisters Sunday and early Monday in other states.
ARKANSAS: Tornadoes hit mostly rural areas of central and east-central Arkansas, destroying several homes. No deaths or serious injuries reported.
SOUTH DAKOTA: At least three tornado touchdowns reported. Hail as big as baseballs fell in Mellette County.
NEBRASKA: Scattered damage from several tornadoes in rural parts of state. Hail as big as softballs damaged homes and cars outside Omaha.
KENTUCKY: Thunderstorms struck Louisville during Monday morning rush hour, and some 24,000 homes and businesses lost power. Tornado injured one person.
MISSISSIPPI: Tornado damages several homes in rural northern part of state. No injuries reported.
- Information from the New York Times, Associated Press and Washington Post was used in this report.
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