With forecasters warning of more of the same yesterday across the South, a large tornado damaged homes and downed trees and power lines around Tupelo, Miss. There were no immediate reports of any injuries.
Most of the dead in Arkansas were killed in their homes in and around Vilonia, population 3,800. Firefighters yesterday searched for anyone trapped amid the piles of splintered wood and belongings strewn across yards. Hospitals took in more than 100 patients.
The tornado that hit the town and nearby Mayflower was probably the nation’s strongest so far this year on the 0-to-5 EF scale, with the potential to be at least an EF3, which means winds greater than 136 mph, National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Hood said.
It wrecked cars and trucks along Interstate 40 north of Little Rock. Also among the ruins was a new $14 million intermediate school that had been set to open this fall.
“It’s amazing to me how wide it was,” Mayflower Mayor Randy Holland said. “It was the loudest grinding noise I’ve ever heard.”
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said officials didn’t yet have a count of the missing. He said the dead included a woman who was in a safe room but was hit by debris that went through the door.
“Mother nature and tornadoes, sometimes you can’t explain how that works,” Beebe said.
Three people died when the tornado tore a Paron home down to the foundation. Emily Tittle, 17, said her family took shelter under the stairs of their two-story home before the twister ripped the walls away. She said her father, Rob Tittle; 20-year-old sister Tori and 14-year-old sister Rebekah were killed, and her six other siblings were taken to hospitals.
In Vilonia, Raella Faulkner and Bobby McElroy picked through their demolished home, searching for family photos and a bow-and-arrow kit belonging to McElroy’s son. The two had taken refuge from the storm in an underground storm shelter about 10 feet from their home.