Predawn Missouri tornado kills at least 5 and sows destruction

GLEN ALLEN, Mo. (AP) — A large tornado ripped through southeastern Missouri before dawn on Wednesday, killing at least five people and causing widespread destruction as a broad swath of the Midwest and South watched closely for more storms that could hit additional twisters and hail could result.

The tornado made landfall around 3:30 a.m. and was moving through a rural area of ​​Bollinger County about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of St. Louis, said Sgt. Clark Parrott of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Trees were uprooted and houses reduced to shards. A building was tipped on its side. Drone footage showed rescuers peering into the wreckage with flashlights.

More than 20 authorities were involved in the search for survivors and victims, with damage so extensive they were sometimes forced to use chainsaws to cut down trees and brush to reach homes, Parrott said.

“The damage is fairly widespread. It’s just heartbreaking to see,” Parrott said.

The twister caused significant destruction in and around the small rural communities of Glen Allen and Grassy, ​​Bollinger County Sheriff Casey A. Graham said in a Facebook post. A hunting area separates the two communities.

At least five people were killed, Graham wrote, noting that he was withholding the names of the dead to ensure their families could be notified first.

“Please understand the scope of this operation,” he said. “I know everyone wants updates and news on what happened. As your sheriff, my focus is on making sure those who still need help get it, and we are responsible for all of our citizens.”

Charles Collier, 61, said he saw the coroner’s van drive by with the lights on in Glen Allen, where he has a warehouse.

“It was a sad, sad sight — knowing there were bodies there,” said Collier, who wasn’t entirely relieved to see his facility spared. “I was just numb thinking about all these other people, what they’re going through.”

Josh Wells said the tornado ripped off half the roof of his home in Glen Allen and caved in his bedroom wall. Luckily he fled to his sister’s house with his son because it has a basement.

“We all ran down and pressed against the wall and my brother-in-law made it just seconds before we heard the rush of wind and debris all around us,” he said.

While his sister’s house held out, the area reeked of gas because a propane installation was damaged.

Justin Gibbs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Paducah, Kentucky, said the tornado stayed on the ground for about 15 minutes and traveled an estimated distance of 15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 kilometers).

A weather service team was en route to Bollinger County to gather details about the tornado, but Gibbs said it was clear “it was big. It was a major tornado.”

He noted that tornadoes are particularly dangerous when they land late at night or early in the morning, like this one.

“It’s definitely a nightmare from a warning standpoint,” Gibbs said. “It’s always bad, but it’s especially bad at 3:30 in the morning.”

Larry Welker, the Bollinger County public administrator, said the twister traveled along Route 34 to Glen Allen, a village of just over 100 residents, and he was unable to inspect the damage first-hand because law enforcement denied access to restricted the area .

“I’m getting reports that it was pretty bad,” he said. He described it as a rural area where residents mainly engaged in farming, logging or construction work.

“There were several followers, and I understand there are still people missing,” Welker said.

Gov. Mike Parson said he will join rescue workers at the scene to assess the damage and determine what resources are needed. They planned a press conference for the afternoon.

Missouri’s U.S. scythes Eric Schmitt and Josh Hawley, meanwhile, said they are in touch with local leaders and ready to help. Schmitt also warned in a statement that Missouri residents should remain vigilant “as worse weather is on the horizon.”

The storms sweeping through the Midwest and South on Wednesday are threatening some areas that were still affected by a deadly storm last weekend. The Storm Prediction Center said up to 40 million people in an area that includes major cities like Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit and Memphis, Tennessee were at risk from the storms later Wednesday. By late morning, the biggest threat appeared to be in an area stretching from lower Michigan to Tennessee and Kentucky.

Violent storms that began last Friday and continued through the weekend spawned deadly tornadoes in 11 states as the system trotted through Arkansas and into the South, Midwest and Northeast.

Schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, canceled Wednesday classes because the storms were expected to sweep through the area during the morning rush, KFVS-TV reported.

In central Illinois, authorities said five people were injured and about 300 homes were left without power due to a tornado that ripped through Fulton County Tuesday night. Chris Helle, who runs the county’s Emergency Services Disaster Agency, said one of the injured is in critical condition.

Helle said the damage was concentrated near the town of Bryant, about 200 miles (322 kilometers) southwest of Chicago. Firefighters and other first responders were still cataloging the damage there, but Helle said numerous homes were destroyed. He credited people with listening to advance warnings and taking shelter.

Officials said another tornado made landfall in the western Illinois township of Colona on Tuesday morning. Local news reports showed wind damage to some businesses there.

Winds of up to 90 mph and baseball-sized hailstones also caused damage in the Quad Cities area of ​​Iowa and Illinois.

The National Weather Service also received reports of semi-trailers being overturned by winds in Lee County, about 153 km west of Chicago.


McFetridge reported from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writers Margaret Stafford of Liberty, Missouri, Heather Hollingsworth of Mission, Kansas, and Trisha Ahmed of Minneapolis contributed to this report. Predawn Missouri tornado kills at least 5 and sows destruction

Sarah Y. Kim

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