Weekend tornadoes leave 'a royal mess' in Midwest; 5 dead

8:52 PM, Apr 15, 2012   |    comments
Man makes his way through the rubble of his home after tornado, Woodward, Oklahoma
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CRESTON, Iowa - Parts of the Midwest were starting on Sunday to pick up the pieces and tally the damage left after scores of tornadoes roared through the plains over the weekend, leaving five dead, dozens injured and homes and buildings reduced to rubble.

There were roughly 100 reports of tornadoes Saturday and early Sunday, primarily in Kansas but also in northwest Oklahoma, Nebraska and Iowa, according to Weather Channel meteorologist Jonathan Erdman.

And more bad weather was expected through Monday morning in the nation's midsection. Forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., warned of more tornadoes and severe storms, the most dangerous likely in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

The city of Woodward, Okla., bore the worst of the weekend storms. Five people died and 30 were injured. City manager Alan Riffel told CNN that 89 homes and 13 businesses had been destroyed. Up to 250 emergency responders from other communities and agencies had come to the city's aid.

The American Red Cross set up a shelter and planned to dispatch mobile feeding trucks to neighborhoods and offer assistance to weary residents.

"This was a horrific event, but I've come across people in the neighborhoods in high spirits because they've got their lives," says Rusty Surette, a spokesman for the Central and Western Oklahoma region of the American Red Cross, which also opened a shelter in Norman, where a tornado struck Friday.

Here in Creston, an unconfirmed tornado is believed to have struck Saturday night.

"We didn't receive any warning," said police chief Paul Ver Meer.

There were no deaths, though, and only minor injuries, he said. Two homes were destroyed, and a hospital and other nearby buildings were damaged.

Another unconfirmed tornado is believed to have devastated the southwestern Iowa town of Thurman, where at least 75% of the homes were wiped out or damaged.

"It's a royal mess," said Mike Crecelius, director of emergency management for Fremont County. But no fatalities or injuries were reported.

Some 97 tornadoes swept through Kansas, leaving a dozen people injured but causing no deaths, said Steve Larson, spokesman for the adjutant general, who oversees the state's emergency management. Gov. Sam Brownback declared 37 counties in the central part of the state to be disaster areas. On Sunday he flew to Wichita and nearby communities to see the damage first-hand, Larson said.

The severe weather ruptured gas lines, plunged thousands of Kansans into darkness and damaged roughly 100 homes in a Wichita mobile home park. Officials credited frequent early warnings about the coming storms to saving lives.

"That information, we put it out early and often, making sure people knew to take cover, to take shelter," Larson said. "And I think that in large part kept people from dying or being hurt."

Still, residents were struggling to cope with all they had lost.

Yvonne Tucker told the Associated Press that the tornado destroyed her home. She and other residents of her mobile home park in Wichita had ridden out the storm in a shelter.

"I didn't think it was that bad until I walked down my street, and everything is gone," she said. "I don't know what to do. I don't know where to go. I've seen it on TV, but when it happens to you, it's surreal."

Meteorologists had been warning residents of the central and southern Plains about the outbreak for several days. For only the second time in history, the Storm Prediction Center issued a "high" risk for severe weather more than 24 hours in advance. In all, local National Weather Service offices issued 124 tornado warnings on Saturday, Erdman reported.

The weekend's storms brought the number of people killed by tornadoes this year to 62, according to the Storm Prediction Center. In an average year, tornadoes kill about 60 Americans. The heart of the tornado season is still to come. May tends to be the busiest month.

By later today, the Midwest is likely to get a reprieve. Cooler, drier weather is likely for most of the areas that were hit by tornadoes over the weekend, according to Weather Channel meteorologist Mark Ressler. The most severe weather is expected to be strong winds and possible large hail around the eastern Great Lakes.

Heggen reports for The Des Moines Register. Jones reported from New York, Rice from Silver Spring, Md. Contributing: The Associated Press

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