Storms pound several central states

Thursday, May 26, 2011
A line of severe storms crosses the Mississippi River on Wednesday in Memphis, Tenn., passing by the Memphis Pyramid. The dark formation was reported a few minutes earlier as a tornado in West Memphis, Ark. (Lance Murphey ~ Associated Press)

ST. LOUIS -- Powerful storms roared through middle America again Wednesday, with weak tornadoes touching down in isolated spots and severe thunderstorms threatening such strikes in several states.

The National Weather Service issued tornado watches and a series of warnings in a dozen states, stretching northwest from Texas though the Mississippi River valley to Ohio.

"Everybody's working as fast and furious as possible," said Beverly Poole, the chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service's office in Paducah, Ky., which covers southeastern Missouri and Southern Illinois. "This is just a wild ride."

There were no immediate reports of deaths from the new round of storms, though authorities reported dozens of minor injuries following brief tornado touchdowns in Missouri and Indiana.

Wednesday's storms followed a deadly outbreak Tuesday in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas that killed at least 15 people. The nation's deadliest single tornado since 1950 killed 125 on Sunday in the southwest Missouri city of Joplin.

Heavy rain, hail and lightning pounded Memphis on Wednesday night as a tornado warning sounded. Menacing clouds showed some rotation, but there were no confirmed reports of tornadoes touching down.

Southern Indiana authorities said at least 12 people were treated for non-life-threatening injuries after a tornado touched down along U.S. 50 east of Bedford.

Wednesday's heaviest destruction was reported in Sedalia, 75 miles east of Kansas City, where a tornado damaged several homes and businesses and prompted officials to end the school year several days early because of damage to buses. Fifteen to 25 people suffered minor injuries, officials said, and most were able to get themselves to the city's hospital for treatment.

Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said thoughts of Joplin may have made Sedalia residents more cautious when the sirens sounded and spared the city from more serious injuries.

"Considering the destruction that occurred in Joplin -- being that we're in tornado alley and Sedalia has historically been hit by tornadoes in the past -- I think people heeded that warning," Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said. "And so, I think that helped tremendously."

Tornado in Ellsinore

A half-mile-wide tornado cut a path through southeastern Missouri's Carter County, flipping a couple of mobile homes near Grandin and leaving a half-dozen homes near Ellsinore, Mo., damaged or destroyed, said Larry Sandarciero, the county's emergency management director. Many more homes lost windows and shingles, and acres of trees were flattened.

"But after what they're going through in Joplin, we are blessed to say we have no reported injuries," Sandarciero said. "We're absolutely thrilled."

Funnel clouds dropped from the sky over Poplar Bluff without reaching the ground, and several other tornado warnings were posted for southeastern Missouri and neighboring portions of Illinois and Arkansas into Wednesday evening.

The abundance of reports had meteorologists sending out warnings at a frenzied pace.

Poole said of special significance was that in many cases, there were reports of debris falling from the sky as far as 10 miles away from the actual center of the storms, demonstrating "just how severe it is."

"It's just that that debris is being taken into very high levels and being spit right out," she said.

In Illinois, high winds, rain and at least four possible tornadoes knocked down power lines and damaged at least one home and a number of farm buildings across the central and eastern parts of the state.

"Mostly it was shingles off roofs and garages," said Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson.

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