9 confirmed dead in U.S. storms
People stand near a destroyed house in Vilonia, Ark., Tuesday, April 26, 2011, after a tornado struck the area late Monday. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
VILONIA, Ark. — A tornado tore up a small central Arkansas town, killing four people and leaving the governor wondering Tuesday how so many others managed to survive. The night of brutal storms killed at least nine people in the state, and more harsh weather was forecast.
The tornado smashed through the heart of Vilonia, just north of Little Rock, on Monday night, ripping the roof off the grocery store, flattening homes, tossing vehicles into the air and twisting one tractor-trailer like a wrung dish rag.
Gov. Mike Beebe toured the rural community of 3,800 with emergency officials Tuesday morning and talked with storm survivors as they cleared debris from their homes.
"These folks have faced some terrible losses and I'm surprised there aren't more fatalities, based upon looking at some of the damage," Beebe said.
Beebe credited the survivals on an early tornado-warning system, "luck" and "just the good Lord watching over."
The tornado battered most of the homes in the Quail Hollow subdivision of Vilonia, leaving many without a roof. A wooden fence could be seen sticking out of the top one house.
Terina Atkins, a middle school librarian, said she and her family rode out the storm in their laundry room. Adkins said she heard a loud sucking noise and realized that air was being sucked out through the drain.
"We clogged up the sink and we could feel our ears popping," Atkins said.
Faulkner County spokesman Stephan Hawks said the infrastructure in and around Vilonia was badly damaged.
"One of the hardest hit things is the utilities. It tore down power lines for, gosh, I'd guess a mile or so. It snapped overhead poles like they were toothpicks. It's pretty devastating," Hawks said. "It was a heck of a little tornado."
In Garland County, about 60 miles southwest of Little Rock, rescuers struggled because of the tremendous number of downed trees and power lines.
"We still at this time have people trapped in homes that have not been reached because of downed power poles and storm damage," Garland County emergency management coordinator Joy Sanders said.
"It looks like we got run over three or four times," Sanders said.
Garland County sheriff's spokesman Judy Daniell said an 8-month-old baby was sent to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock with a head injury, but that no other major injuries have been reported in the area.
Crews are double-checking homes to make sure there are no more victims, Daniell said.
The deaths from Monday's storms bring this month's storm-related death toll in Arkansas to 15. And forecasters said another bout of bad weather was expected to hammer the state Tuesday afternoon, further complicating rescue efforts.
"It may not be over," Beebe said.
The National Weather Service office in North Little Rock sent teams to Vilonia and Garland County to investigate the damage and assess how much of it was caused by tornadic or straight-line winds.
John Robinson, a weather service warning coordination meteorologist, said it could take days to survey all the damage from Monday's storms.
"It wouldn't surprise me if we were to end up with a count of 10 or 12 tornadoes by the time all the surveys are completed," Robinson said.
Rescuers in Garland County battled to reach areas that were cut off late Monday by the flooding.
Sanders, the emergency coordinator, said crews used boats to rescue people from some storm-damaged areas.
"It's difficult this early on to find out what really has happened," said Sanders, who noted that rescuers have thus far relied on reports from residents who speculated about which of their neighbors may have been home when the storm swiped the region.
Flooding also led to the death of at least four people in the northwest corner of the state, where raging waters swept vehicles from the roads, according to officials in Washington, Madison and Benton counties.
Several rivers in northeast Arkansas topped flood stage, with waters spreading over mainly agricultural land. City Hall in Hardy was evacuated in anticipation of the floodwaters, as were homes along the Spring River, even though most were built on 10-foot pilings.
Roads in and out of the area were impassable due to flood waters.
--The Associated Press
A child takes a photo with her cellphone of a cow sign for Sirloin Stockade in Murray, Ky. after overnight storms lifted it from its base and tipped it over into the parking lot. Authorities in Murray are reporting thousands of customers without power after a strong storm moved through overnight. (AP Photo/The Ledger & Times, Kyser Lough)