Sun May 11, 2008 11:51am EDT
Deadly tornadoes hit U.S.
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) – At least 19 people were killed in Missouri and Oklahoma when tornadoes and violent storms ripped through the central and southeastern United States, devastating neighborhoods and injuring hundreds, officials said on Sunday.
The National Weather Service reported six deaths in Oklahoma and 13 in Missouri but those tolls may rise.
“The numbers picked up after first light,” said Susie Stonner of Missouri Emergency Management. “We are still doing search and rescue. There are reports of missing people.”
The severe weather, which started along the border between Kansas and Oklahoma on Saturday, moved into Georgia on Sunday.
In Missouri’s Newton County on the border with Oklahoma, 10 people were killed. Hardest hit was Racine, a tiny community about 170 miles south of Kansas City.
Initial reports from storm survey crews on Sunday showed a path of destruction a mile wide in some places, said Jason Schaumann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missouri.
“This looks like a very large tornado,” he said. “We’ve got indications of cars that were thrown a quarter to a half mile, and frame homes that were swept off their foundations.”
Damage on the ground indicated an EF3 tornado, which would have estimated wind speeds of 136 to 165 mph (219 to 266 kph), the meteorologist said.
Media reports put the number of injured people at 150 in Oklahoma and nearly 100 in Missouri, although those numbers are expected to rise.
Hail the size of softballs and wind gusts of 80 mph (129 kph) were also reported in Missouri.
At least six people were killed in the small northeastern Oklahoma town of Picher, officials said.
Local television footage from Picher, where a 24-block area was destroyed, showed widespread devastation. Homes were leveled, trees uprooted and sheet metal twisted like paper.
Picher is at the center of a massive federal clean-up of pollution from lead and zinc mining. Residents were being assisted with relocation from the community after high levels of lead were found in groundwater.
Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry ordered National Guard troops to arrive in Picher by Sunday morning to help rescue and recovery operations.
In all, the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, recorded 40 tornado reports in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, although some were multiple reports about the same twister or twisters.
(Reporting by Ben Fenwick in Oklahoma City and Anna Driver in Houston; Editing by John O’Callaghan)