VILONIA: A ferocious storm system threatened tens of millions of people across the US Southeast yesterday, a day after it spawned a series of tornadoes that killed 16 people, injured more than 100 and tossed cars around like toys in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Rescue workers, volunteers and victims have been sifting through the rubble in the hardest-hit state of Arkansas, looking for survivors in central Faulkner County where a tornado reduced homes to splinters, snapped power lines and mangled countless trees.
The National Weather Service said there was a tornado risk for Mississippi, Alabama and western Georgia as the storm system that produced the twisters headed east toward the Mid-Atlantic states.
Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said at least 14 people died in the state in the storm authorities said produced the first fatalities of this year’s US tornado season. He previously told a news conference 16 had been killed but later said there was a mistake in calculation.
Nine of the victims came from the same street in the town of Vilonia, with a population of about 4,100. A new intermediate school set to open in August was heavily damaged by a tractor trailer blown into its roof. A steel farm shop anchored to concrete was erased from the landscape.
“Everything is just leveled to the ground,” Vilonia resident Matt Rothacher said. “It cut a zig-zag right through town.”
Rothacher was at home with his wife and four children when the tornado passed through. While his home survived, The Valley Church where he serves as pastor, was flattened.
Two elementary school-aged boys died in their home after having a pizza dinner at a friend’s home, said Rothacher, who was helping provide grief counseling to the family that had sent the two boys home after they finished their meal as the storm approached.
The home that the boys left survived the tornado. The home the boys returned to did not, Rothacher said. REUTERS