- (Photo: Reuters/Gene Blevins)
At least 17 people were killed in Arkansas and Oklahoma Sunday by tornadoes that slammed the central and southern United States, damaging or destroying scores of homes and businesses and leaving rescue workers searching in darkness for survivors.
At least 16 people were killed when twisters ripped through areas near Little Rock, Arkansas, according to Gov. Mike Beebe's office. These include at least 10 people casualties in Faulkner County and six more across the state, according to Reuters.
Another person was killed in Quapaw in neighboring Oklahoma, according to the sheriff's department.
The tornado in Arkansas touched down about 10 miles west of Little Rock at around 7 p.m. and moved north-eastward for at least 30 miles, causing widespread damage in the communities of Mayflower and Vilonia in Faulkner County, according to the National Weather Service.
Rescue workers were digging through rubble in Vilonia Sunday night. A spokesman for the County Sheriff's office was quoted as saying there was a "mass casualty situation."
"An entire neighborhood of 50 or so homes has been destroyed. Many homes are completely gone except the foundation ... There is more devastation like this in other parts of Arkansas," state congressman Tim Griffin was quoted as saying.
"There's just really nothing there anymore. We're probably going to have to start all over again," Vilonia Schools Superintendent Frank Mitchell told Fox News early Monday.
Weather officials in North Little Rock said the Mayflower and Vilonia storm is expected to be rated as the nation's strongest twister in 2014. "It has the potential to be EF3 or greater [with winds greater than 136 mph]," meteorologist Jeff Hood was quoted as saying. "Based on some of the footage we've seen from Mayflower and where it crossed Interstate 40, things were wrecked in a very significant way."
Between 7 a.m. and 10:55 p.m. CDT Sunday, the Storm Prediction Center had received 220 reports of severe weather, comprising 103 reports of large hail, 88 reports of wind damage or winds greater than 58 mph, and 29 reports of tornadoes.
The Weather Channel says locations from the Plains into the Mississippi Valley, Ohio Valley and parts of the South could see severe storms and tornadoes on one or multiple days until Wednesday. Flooding rainfall will also be a serious threat.
On Saturday, eastern North Carolina cleaned up from multiple twisters that left at least 16 people injured, about 200 homes damaged or destroyed and thousands of customers without power.
Weather officials in Morehead City, N.C., indicated that one of the tornadoes was EF3. It tore through Whichards Beach in Beaufort County at about 7:40 p.m. Friday, according to The Weather Channel.
"You can track the tornado by the damage," Beaufort County Emergency Management Director John Pack was quoted as saying. "It left a lot damage behind in its approximately five to 10 minutes on the ground."
Pack said the storm, about 300 yards wide and on the ground for 10 miles, damaged or destroyed around 200 homes and injured 16 people. About 8,000 people were without power at one point, he added.
At least three other EF2 tornadoes slammed the region Friday.
Among the affected areas were northwest of the Statesville area and Elizabeth City and the nearby Halls Creek area.
"We continue to expect a significant multi-day severe weather risk this weekend into Monday. This will be across the central and southern Plains on Saturday/Sunday and into the Mississippi Valley and mid-South on Monday. In addition to large hail and damaging winds, some strong tornadoes are possible," the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center had said.