A violent storm system powering through a wide swath of the Midwest and South on Wednesday spawned tornadoes and powerful winds that turned homes into splintered wreckage and cars into crumpled shells and killed at least 13 people.
The system, which followed closely behind the one that spawned the massive twister that struck Joplin, Mo., and killed more than 120 people, moved into the Oklahoma City area Tuesday evening as worried commuters rushed home from work.
Several tornadoes touched down in the state’s largest city and its suburbs, killing at least eight people and injuring at least 60 others, including three children who were in critical condition, authorities said.
The storms killed two people in Kansas before moving eastward and killing three others in Arkansas. The system was centered over Missouri and Arkansas and southern Illinois early Wednesday and moving into western parts of Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. The National Weather Service placed much of Illinois and Indiana under a tornado watch.
The storms moved into western Arkansas overnight, rendering residents of Denning blind to an approaching tornado once it cut power to the tiny community.
Winery owner Eugene Post, 83, said as he watched from his porch, the lights flickered before the area was plunged into darkness, leaving him only able to listen as the twister approached.
“I didn’t see anything,” Post, 83, said early Wednesday. “I could hear it real loud though.”
That tornado killed one person, and two other people, one each from the towns of Bethlehem and Etna, were also killed by tornadoes, authorities said. It wasn’t immediately clear if it was a single tornado that killed all three people or separate twisters.
“I don’t know, it’s just unbelievable,” said Rick Covert, Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator for Franklin County, Ark. “It’s just total devastation.”
A rural fire station in Franklin County was left without a roof as emergency workers rushed to the wounded. Downed trees and power lines tossed across roadways also slowed search-and-rescue crews’ efforts.
Emergency officials have accounted for everyone else in Bethlehem, said county emergency management director Josh Johnston. Crews were working through the night in the hopes of saying the same thing for other communities.
The twisters that struck the Oklahoma City area killed five people in Canadian County, two in Logan County and one in Grady County, said Cherokee Ballard, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office. A weather-monitoring site in El Reno recorded 151 mph winds.
Ballard said a child was among those killed, but she had no other details.
The storms destroyed homes in Piedmont, some 20 miles northwest of Oklahoma City and threw vehicles about like toys tossed from a stroller.