Twisters Cut Deadly Path Across South, Central US
The biggest tornado outbreak of the year started this weekend in the central United States and may not be over yet. At least 16 people are dead from 29 twisters spanning from Arkansas to North Carolina.
The powerful storm system is now moving East on the heels of Sunday's severe weather. Arkansas was hit the hardest with at least 14 of the victims killed there.
Vilonia, Arkansas, a suburb of Little Rock, was hit almost exactly three years ago by an EF-2 tornado. Town Mayor James Firestone said that tornado was minor compared to what they experienced Sunday night.
"This storm was much stronger," Firestone said. "The devastation was just tremendous as far as the damage that it did. Before minor stuff, now houses are reduced to just piles of rubble."
Cleanup efforts haven't even begun. Volunteers are being asked to stay away as rescue crews continue to search through the debris for survivors.
"It is a slow process because we got people and dogs going through the rubble and trying to find whoever we can and whatever we can," Public Information Officer David Houge said. "Law enforcement has perimeter around town."
The twister carved an 80-mile path of destruction north of Little Rock. It grew to about half-a-mile wide and, at one point, remained on the ground for an estimated 30-miles.
Arkansas residents Robert and Judy Garrett managed to survive by taking refuge in a safe room they built in their home two years ago. The rest of the house was destroyed.
"We opened the door, we couldn't get out because there was debris," Judy Garret said. "Everything was lost, everything."
"Those are just things," she said. "And we are alive and we are so thankful. We're so grateful."
According to Arkansas State Police, about 30 vehicles were driving through Interstate 40, near Little Rock, when the twister struck. Many of them were completely shredded, but the drivers were all able to escape.
"As I was driving back I saw nothing but black. It was huge, I saw the rotation," driver Zeth Watts said.
Tornadoes also touched down in Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska.
In Baxter Springs, Kan., as many as 70 homes were destroyed. First responders went door to door, marking each home with an "OK" once they confirmed everyone got out alive.
Speaking from the Philippines' capital of Manila Monday morning, President Barack Obama offered his condolences.
"I want everybody to know that your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild, as long as it takes," he vowed.
Meanwhile, cleanup was just getting started in North Carolina, where a weekend EF-3 tornado claimed the life of an 11-month-old baby and destroyed more than 200 homes.
"It broke my heart because I lost everything," one tearful woman said. "I thank the Lord for not having me here because I probably wouldn't be standing here right now."
The same storm system is now slowly pushing East. The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center says more storms are expected tonight in the South and across the Mississippi Valley.
The latest tornado outbreak ended what had been the quietest tornado season in more than 60 years.