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Midwest storms spawn several tornadoes, kill 13
By Kristi Eaton
EL RENO, Okla. — A violent storm system powering through a wide swath of the Midwest and South on Wednesday spawned tornadoes and powerful winds that turned homes into splintered wreckage and cars into crumpled shells and killed at least 13 people.
The system, which followed closely behind the one that spawned the massive twister that struck Joplin, Mo., and killed more than 120 people, moved into the Oklahoma City area Tuesday evening as worried commuters rushed home from work.
Several tornadoes touched down in the state's largest city and its suburbs, killing at least eight people and injuring at least 60 others, including three children who were in critical condition, authorities said.
The storms killed two people in Kansas before moving eastward and killing three others in Arkansas. The system was centered over Missouri and Arkansas and southern Illinois early Wednesday and moving into western parts of Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. The National Weather Service placed much of Illinois and Indiana under a tornado watch.
The storms moved into western Arkansas overnight, rendering residents of Denning blind to an approaching tornado once it cut power to the tiny community.
Winery owner Eugene Post, 83, said as he watched from his porch, the lights flickered before the area was plunged into darkness, leaving him only able to listen as the twister approached.
"I didn't see anything," Post, 83, said early Wednesday. "I could hear it real loud though."
That tornado killed one person, and two other people, one each from the towns of Bethlehem and Etna, were also killed by tornadoes, authorities said. It wasn't immediately clear if it was a single tornado that killed all three people or separate twisters.
"I don't know, it's just unbelievable," said Rick Covert, Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator for Franklin County, Ark. "It's just total devastation."
A rural fire station in Franklin County was left without a roof as emergency workers rushed to the wounded. Downed trees and power lines tossed across roadways also slowed search-and-rescue crews' efforts.
Emergency officials have accounted for everyone else in Bethlehem, said county emergency management director Josh Johnston. Crews were working through the night in the hopes of saying the same thing for other communities.
The twisters that struck the Oklahoma City area killed five people in Canadian County, two in Logan County and one in Grady County, said Cherokee Ballard, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's office. A weather-monitoring site in El Reno recorded 151 mph winds.
Ballard said a child was among those killed, but she had no other details.
The storms destroyed homes in Piedmont, some 20 miles northwest of Oklahoma City and threw vehicles about like toys tossed from a stroller.
"My husband and I were driving around yesterday and went past a house and there was a vehicle in the pond in the front yard. The only way I could tell it was a vehicle was I could see four wheels above the water. It was a crushed ball," Piedmont Mayor Valerie Thomerson said Wednesday.
"We have anything from houses that have shingles blown off, to half the house missing, to the house being completely wiped out, gone," Thomerson said.
Some residents said they had been warned about the impending weather for days and were watching television or listening to the radio so they would know when to take cover.
"We live in Oklahoma and we don't mess around," Lori Jenkins said. "We kept an eye on the weather and knew it was getting close."
She took refuge with her husband and two children in a neighbor's storm shelter in the Oklahoma City suburb of Guthrie. When they emerged, they discovered their carport had been destroyed and the back of their home was damaged.
Chris Pyle was stunned as he pulled into the suburban neighborhood near Piedmont where he lived as a teenager. His parents' home was destroyed, but the house next door had only a few damaged shingles.
"That's when it started sinking in," he said. "You don't know what to think. There are lots of memories, going through the trash tonight, finding old trophies and pictures."
His parents, Fred and Snow Pyle, rode out the storm in a shelter at a nearby school.
At Chickasha, 25 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, a 26-year-old woman died when a tornado hit a mobile home park where residents had been asked to evacuate their trailers, Assistant Police Chief Elip Moore said. He said a dozen people were injured and that hundreds were displaced when the storm splintered their homes.
In Kansas, police said two people died when high winds threw a tree into their van around 6 p.m. near the small town of St. John, about 100 miles west of Wichita. The highway was shut down because of storm damage.
The path of the storms included Joplin, which is cleaning up from a Sunday storm that was the nation's eighth-deadliest twister among records dating to 1840. Late-night tornado sirens had Joplin's residents ducking for cover again before the storm brushed past without serious problems.
The storms also blew through North Texas, but the damage seemed to be confined to roofs and trees and lawn furniture and play equipment.
"The hail was probably more destructive," said Steve Fano, National Weather Service meteorologist in Fort Worth.
Associated Press Writers Jeannie Nuss in Little Rock, Ark., Terry Wallace in Dallas, Ken Miller in Oklahoma City and Dana Fields in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.