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Death, damage reported in twisters' wake

New tornado warnings issued Monday

Tornado damage in Stockton, Missouri, included this stop sign bent around its pole by the force of the winds.
Tornado damage in Stockton, Missouri, included this stop sign bent around its pole by the force of the winds.

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A series of tornadoes cut a path of destruction through Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee (May 5)
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Veteran storm chaser Reed Timmer talks with CNN's Wolf Blitzer about videotaping Sunday's twister in Baxter Springs, Kansas (May 5)
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Damage is widespread after a series of tornadoes touched down in Kansas and Missouri (May 5)
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JACKSON, Tennessee (CNN) -- The death toll climbed Monday as rescuers combed through twisted wreckage and crumbled buildings after an "extremely rare" outbreak of tornadoes Sunday and early Monday killed at least 39 people in Missouri, Kansas and Tennessee.

Thousands of residents from Kansas to Tennessee were without power late Monday. Many of them faced the formidable task of rebuilding homes wiped out in the storms.

President Bush offered his condolences to the tornado victims at a stopover in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state that also suffered tornado damage over the weekend.

"The federal government will move as quickly as we possibly can where help is needed," Bush said. "Nature is awfully tough at times. And the best we can do is to pray for those who suffered."

Severe weather continued to pound parts of the nation through Monday, with tornado warnings in Michigan, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi in effect in the evening.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for northern Georgia, including the metro Atlanta area, until 3:30 a.m.

A storm at the Georgia-Alabama border prompted a tornado warning for the Anniston, Alabama, area.

Two twisters were reported in northeastern Mississippi shortly before 8 p.m. Monday [9 p.m. EDT]. The National Weather Service radar indicated a tornado three miles west of Paynes, Mississippi, moving eastward. Radar also indicated another twister 13 miles west of Velma moving northeast.

And in northwest Tennessee, radar indicated tornadoes three miles northwest of Millsfield and four miles south of Greenfield.

Sunday evening, 83 twisters were sighted in central and southeastern states, said Dick Hainje, a regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"This is a huge, huge outbreak," Hainje said Monday. "Once in a while, you'll get like two or maybe three super cells with very big tornadoes, but numbers like this are extremely rare."

Officials said seven people died in Sunday night's twisters in Kansas, at least 18 in Missouri and at least 14 in Tennessee. Other people thought to be in the storm's path were reported missing. No deaths were reported in Arkansas.

One northeast Kansas resident told CNN that the fast-moving tornado bearing down on her Sunday night "sounded like a huge boulder rolling down the street."

City is 'almost completely gone'

The tornadoes were spawned from an unstable air mass ahead of a developing storm system over the Central Plains, forming a "very potent" line between dry and moist air, Dan McCarthy of the Storm Prediction Center said.

start quoteWe heard a horrible suction, and we took cover in our bathroom. We got up, and everything was gone. end quote
-- Carmen Archer, Pierce City, Missouri

"When you get those kinds of conditions and you get a jet stream that is moving right into that area, that is exactly what we're looking for in environmental conditions that can produce a ... tornado outbreak like we had yesterday," McCarthy added.

There are two major tornado seasons in the Midwest and South -- spring and fall. The spring season lasts until about June. Kansas and Missouri are among the most tornado-prone states.

Lawrence County in southwest Missouri was severely hit Sunday.

Pierce City, a town of 1,400, looked like a war zone after a tornado spent 30 minutes gutting it.

"It's not even recognizable," said Missouri state Rep. Jack Goodman. "There's not one building that hasn't been significantly damaged. Many of them are gone entirely, and very few -- if any -- will be salvageable."

Councilman Thomas Majors -- who said he heard a loud hum before the storm -- said residents were suffering "total shock." Many of the town's buildings were 200 years old.

"It pretty much took the tops off everything," he said.

Statewide emergency declared in Missouri

This neighborhood in Franklin, Kansas, is almost completely gone.
This neighborhood in Franklin, Kansas, is almost completely gone.

Missouri Gov. Bob Holden declared a statewide emergency, and said he asked Bush to declare 39 of the state's 120 counties federal disaster areas.

"We're finding devastation throughout the western part of the state. My folks are telling me it's the most widespread series of tornadoes in the history of this state.

"It's very widespread from southwest Missouri all the way over to north Kansas City," he said.

Holden said the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and 175 National Guardsmen were working to help in the aftermath.

The storms moved east through Arkansas and into Tennessee, leaving a swath of destruction, deaths and injuries.

"It's like downtown Baghdad," lawyer Joe Byrd told The Associated Press after he and his law clerk emerged from the basement after a twister ripped through Jackson, Tennessee.

Weather Service officials will not know the category of the storms until they do a site survey, said Ryan Jewell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

F-3 tornadoes have winds of between 158 and 206 mph and are capable of severe damage, with roofs and some walls torn off well-constructed houses, and most trees uprooted. F-5 is the highest on the scale. (Fujita scale)

Missouri

Downed power lines block access to downtown Jackson, Tennessee.
Downed power lines block access to downtown Jackson, Tennessee.

Much of the storm damage appeared to be across the Kansas state line in Missouri, where severe storm damage was reported in 16 counties, according to Jim Charrier with the Missouri Emergency Management Agency.

• Missouri emergency officials reported deaths in Barton, Christian, Jasper and Cedar counties. In Stockton, the seat of Cedar County, the courthouse sustained major damage, said Jim Wakeman, operations chief of the state emergency management agency. A fire station in Battlefield, just south of Springfield, was destroyed, Wakeman said.

• Dallas County's emergency management director said the northern part of his county bore the brunt of the storm, with 10 people injured and several homes destroyed. "We've got power lines down, a couple of propane tanks punctured, so we've got propane leaking into the area," said director Terry Lane. "All the major roads [into Dallas County] are blocked by debris and power lines and cars on their roofs."

Kansas

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declared a state of emergency for southeastern Kansas, where the storm caused major damage in the counties of Lawrence, Crawford and Cherokee.

• Deaths were reported by Kansas emergency officials in Crawford and Wyandotte counties. In Wyandotte, an 81-year-old man was killed when he was struck in the head by debris, said Don Denney, a spokesman with the unified government of Wyandotte County-Kansas City, Kansas.

• Another 21 people were injured in the city and county, he said, but "it's a miracle" that the toll wasn't higher. "We've sustained significant damage in the northwest section of our city," Denney said. "Dozens and dozens of homes have been leveled and scores of others have been significantly damaged."

Pat Atkins, with the Leavenworth County Emergency Management Office, said nine homes were destroyed, eight had significant damage and 30 suffered some damage. Two people were injured. According to Atkins, most of the storm damage occurred between Linwood and Basehor.

Tennessee

The storm also rumbled into western Tennessee, where tornadoes damaged houses, trailers and buildings. At least 11 people died in Jackson, Tennessee, according to Mayor Charles Farmer. A tornado slammed into the Madison County law enforcement center in Jackson, according to Tennessee Emergency Management spokesman Kurt Pickering.

• The tornado destroyed 16 homes and damaged as many as 100, including at least 70 in east Jackson. The Red Cross is housing about 140 people in shelters in Jackson; another shelter is open in Lexington, about 28 miles east of the city, Red Cross spokeswoman Wanda Stansill said.

• Authorities are working to get two water plants working in Jackson, and Madison County residents have been ordered to boil their water before drinking to kill any bacteria until further notice.

Arkansas

A tornado cut through the northeast part of the state, damaging homes and buildings. One serious injury was reported, officials in the area said.

• In Woodruff County, the storm caused "a lot of structural damage," but the full extent of damage is not yet known, according to the sheriff's department.

• One serious injury was reported in the White County town of El Paso, about 25 miles north of Little Rock, according to Arkansas Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Jennifer Gordon.


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