A wave of terrible tornadoes ripped through the Midwest and South? on Sunday. Arkansas was the hardest hit. The tornado that touched down 10 miles west of the capital, Little Rock, grew to about half a mile wide, and continued on the ground for about 80 miles. Another tornado started in Quapaw, Oklahoma, and crossed into Baxter Springs, Kansas. It destroyed as many as 70 homes and injured 34 people, state and county officials said. As of Monday, the death toll had risen to 16 total for Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Iowa.
The National Weather Service warned that the damaging storms would continue on Monday. The storms will include more tornadoes, damaging winds, and very large hail. The bad weather will strike in parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Louisiana.
Rescue teams are searching for survivors in the rubble left by the natural disaster. "Right now, the main focus is life safety," Brandon Morris, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, said. "We're trying to make sure everyone is accounted for."
The Strongest Storm
Vilonia and Mayflower were two towns hit hard by the tornado in Arkansas. Meteorologist Jeff Hood with the National Weather Service said the tornado that hit those towns would likely be rated as the nation's strongest twister to date this year. Before Sunday, the country had not had a tornado rated EF3 or higher since November 17. EF3 storms have winds greater than 136 mph.
"Based on some of the footage we've seen from Mayflower things were wrecked in a very significant way," Hood said. Utilities in the area must be shut off to prevent electrical fires from starting, he said.
Surviving the Twister
In the U.S., tornado season typically occurs from April to July. Tornadoes usually form during giant thunderstorms called supercells. During a tornado, the National Weather Service advises people to take shelter in a storm cellar, a basement, or the innermost room on the lowest level of a building.
Karla Ault, a Vilonia High School volleyball coach, said she sheltered in the school gymnasium as the storm approached. After it passed, her husband told her their home had been destroyed by the storm. "I'm just kind of numb,” Ault said. “It's just shock that you lost everything. All I've got now is just what I have on.”
Among the ruins in Vilonia was a new $14 million intermediate school that had been set to open this fall. "There's just really nothing there anymore,” Vilonia Schools Superintendent Frank Mitchell said. “We're probably going to have to start all over again.”
At a news conference in the Philippines, President Barack Obama promised the government would help in the recovery. "Your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild as long as it takes," he said.