March 02, 2017
A powerful and wide-reaching line of severe storms barreled east on Wednesday threatening new damage, after spinning off as many as 24 tornadoes across the central U.S., killing at least three people.
Tornado reports emerged up and down the state of Illinois on Tuesday. Compact but strong storms known as supercells triggered widespread damage from Arkansas to Ohio, as wind-whipped wildfires destroyed homes in Texas.
Parts of the eastern and southeastern U.S. could be in the crosshairs next. Tornado watches were in effect for parts of Kentucky and Tennessee through Wednesday morning.
In Ottawa, Illinois, state Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson said a tornado victim was killed by an uprooted tree. In nearby Naplate, storms ripped dozens homes into pieces and tossed some houses off their foundations.
“It was terrifying, it was absolutely terrifying. We don’t have a basement accessible from the inside so we were in the bathroom. The tornado went right over the house,” said Bob Bernardoni, who lives in Naplate.
About 225 miles south, near Crossville, an apparent tornado struck a building near a house, killing a 71-year-old man and injuring his wife, White County Coroner Chris Marsh said.
Another person was killed when a tornado ripped through Perry County, Missouri, about 80 miles south of St. Louis. More than 100 homes around the small town of Perryville were badly damaged and winds were so strong that several vehicles were blown off of Interstate 55. Perry County Clerk Jared Kutz said search and rescue crews were going door-to-door and checking the highway to see if there were other victims.
Minor injuries were also reported at an Ottawa nursing home. Thompson said it wasn’t clear how many people were hurt by the storm, but that it was relatively few.
“The warning systems worked well. People were notified and it’s wonderful the way the residents in the community helped each other,” Gov. Bruce Rauner said after touring Naplate.
A tornado was confirmed in Perry County, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens said. Officials did not immediately release any information about the person killed.
The Oklahoma-based forecast center said 45 million people from Texas to Ohio faced some risk of bad weather. The highest threat level in effect, warning of a “moderate risk” for severe weather, covered the area from southwestern Missouri into Indiana.
Hundreds of people, including many school children, took shelter at Bald Knob High School in Arkansas after a tornado warning was posted for the area. The school is hosting a state basketball tournament for smaller schools this week. Moments earlier, the storm caused damage in Higginson, a town of 621, the White County Sheriff’s Office said.
Photos posted on social media showed basketball fans on the floor in the school’s designated safe area.
The Bald Knob storm was part of the same system that produced a wall cloud near Mayflower, Arkansas, which was hit in 2014 by a tornado with winds approaching 200 mph. The storm crossed Interstate 40 between Little Rock and Conway, but there were no reports that a funnel cloud touched down.
The Missouri Department of Transportation closed Interstate 55 in both directions because of storm damage in Perryville.
Drivers stopped along U.S. 60 east of Springfield, Missouri, according to the Wright County Sheriff’s Office. The storm system pelted some areas with large hailstones, including some the size of baseballs in central Illinois.
Strong winds elsewhere in the Plains spread wildfires in Texas. Four homes were destroyed near Tulia, about 50 miles south of Amarillo, before firefighters beat back the flames. Texas A&M Forest Service spokesman Phillip Truitt said the fire prompted the evacuation of almost 1,200 homes.