Tornado strikes Perry Co. town

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The worst injury was a broken arm, the Red Cross said.

CROSSTOWN, Mo. -- A tornado damaged about 60 homes and injured four people when it tore through this Perry County town and the surrounding area Friday afternoon.

The tornado cut a one-mile swath east along sparsely populated County Road 350, cutting trees in half and tearing off rooftops, said Trish Erzfeld, a county employee who was appointed public information officer for the agencies that responded to the disaster.

Approximately 200 people were displaced Friday night, but no one was unaccounted for as of 9:30 p.m. The worst injury was a broken arm, the Red Cross said.

Erzfeld said the toll could have been worse had the tornado occurred another day; as it was, she said, many families were at the East Perry Community Fair.

"We didn't need a warning; we just heard that roar and went straight to the basement," said Tom Lybarger, who lives on Red Rock Road.

Lybarger and his wife, Loretta, were only in their basement for a few minutes, which was long enough for their house to be obliterated.

"I got into the front yard and said, 'Oh, the trees are all gone.' And then it hit me, 'Oh, the roof is gone,' and I can see through the ceiling to the sky," Lybarger said.

Like most of those affected, the Lybargers had no time to retrieve valuables or cover them with a tarp to protect possessions from rain that continued to fall throughout the evening.

"I have no idea whether or not we'll rebuild," Loretta Lybarger said. "I just said a prayer that we made it."

The Perryville fire department, police department and the Perry County Sheriff's Department all responded immediately to the disaster area.

Twelve volunteers from the American Red Cross Southeast Missouri Chapter gathered at Cape Girardeau headquarters once the tornado warnings were issued. They will be on hand to distribute food, water, blankets, tarps and other necessities to families all day today from mobile units and from the staging area at Zion Lutheran Church in Crosstown.

Harold Corse, 70, had just sat down to dinner when the tornado hit his home built in 1875. The home, near the center of town, has 18 rooms and a basement, but Corse and his wife, Laura, who is in a wheelchair, rode out the storm in the dining room. She stayed in a doorway while he huddled in a corner.

"We were in the right place. Out of 18 rooms, it's the only one still intact," Corse said. "We have walls five bricks thick, and the winds just tore through them. The entire second floor was destroyed."

Corse said his collection of 2,000 hard-bound volumes in his library along with antique furniture and heirlooms were all destroyed.

"It's all gone," Corse said. "We have insurance to cover the basics, but none of that stuff can be replaced, and we don't have enough insurance to pay for it all."

Corse is a hemophiliac and sustained injuries to his right arm during the storm. The blood loss could have been fatal, but he received prompt medical attention that stopped the bleeding.

"It was quite a day, but we're lucky to come out of it with just this. We're fortunate," Corse said.

Firefighter Jesse Unverferth was on search and rescue detail Friday night. He patrolled the three-mile area around Crosstown and estimated that 80 percent of homes he came across were uninhabitable.

"There was an awful lot of destruction," he said. "It's hard to put into words, but this town just looks like a different place."

Friday's storms also produced two tornadoes in Phelps County in south-central Missouri, one tornado in Kennett and another near Pilot Knob.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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