December 19, 2014
At least 19 killed in US tornado outbreak
On a second day of ferocious storms that have claimed at least 19 lives in the southern United States, a tornado tore through the Mississippi town of Tupelo causing widespread destruction to homes and businesses, according to witnesses and local emergency officials.
At least one person was killed in the city of about 35,000 in the northeast of the state and the birthplace of Elvis Presley.
Most of the deaths from the violent storms occurred on Sunday when tornadoes tossed cars like toys in Arkansas and other states.
Today's twister went through the north and west of Tupelo at about 3 p.m. (1800 GMT), damaging hundreds of homes and businesses, downing power lines and toppling trees, according to the National Weather Service.
"It was real bad. We're trying to pull people out," Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre, told Reuters, referring to emergency crews going house to house, searching damaged buildings.
"It's a very serious situation," said Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton. "I am just encouraging everyone to stay inside and be weather aware. There is still a very real danger of another line coming through and people still need to be inside."
Main roads in and out of Tupelo were closed and the city announced a 9 p.m.(0200 GMT) curfew. Some residential areas were closed off as emergency crews checked downed power lines and gas leaks.
Residents whose homes were destroyed took refuge in a Red Cross shelter at a downtown sports arena.
"I heard snapping and I said, 'Get down on the floor!' And then the trees started falling over," said Moe Kirk Bristow of Tupelo.
"Three trees fell on her house, one which flattened my car port and two cars and almost every big tree in her neighborhood was felled," Bristow said.
"I haven't seen a house yet that doesn't have a tree through it or on it, so it's bad," she added.
Social security worker Adrian Brim described receiving a text message from her teenage sons who were home with her husband that said, "the house is shaking" as the twister passed.
"I was just praying God would take care of them," she said.
The house survived with roof and fence damage, she said.
Another woman, Reginia DeWalt said she was awakened when the tornado went by. "It sounded like a big pressure washer - but worse," she said.
Parts of Alabama, western Georgia and Tennessee also were at risk as the storm system that produced the series of tornadoes headed east toward the Mid-Atlantic states.
Rescue workers, volunteers and victims have been sifting through the rubble in the hardest-hit state of Arkansas, looking for survivors in central Faulkner County where a tornado reduced homes to splinters, snapped power lines and mangled trees.
Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said at least 15 people had died statewide in the storm that authorities said produced the first fatalities of this year's US tornado season. He previously told a news conference 16 had been killed but later said there was a mistake in calculation.