KANSAS CITY, Missouri -- Residents and authorities were assessing damage Monday from a deadly swarm of tornadoes that ripped through eastern Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee, killing at least 38 people, emergency management officials said.
Officials said seven people died in
Lawrence County, Missouri, appeared to be the hardest hit with an estimated 12 fatalities and extensive damage, according to Sheriff Doug Seneker. The tornado cut across the southeastern corner of the county Sunday at 6:25 p.m. CDT (7:25 p.m. EDT) and stayed on the ground half an hour, passing through the heart of Pierce City.
"Our downtown area was pretty much leveled," said Shelly Yonker, a Pierce City, Missouri, utilities clerk. "It was a beautiful little town."
Two of the county's fatalities were at the National Guard Armory in Pierce City, where people had gone to seek shelter, Yonker said. Several people remain missing. A police officer said the downtown area was "wiped out."
From Kansas and Missouri, the line of storms moved east through Arkansas and into Tennessee, leaving a swath of destruction, deaths and injuries. "This is all one big storm system," said Rich Thompson, a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma.
Thompson said the storms were caused by dry air from the Rocky Mountains hitting moist air from the Gulf of Mexico.
"There have been multiple supercell thunderstorms coming off of that, and may have been producing tornadoes," Thompson said.
The storm was likely to churn up more dangerous weather on Monday, experts said.
"No tornado warnings are currently issued for the storm," said CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers. "But there are still four tornado watches stretching from northern Mississippi east to northern Alabama and northern Georgia." Tornado watches are issued by the National Weather Service when conditions are favorable for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms.
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. "But just unofficially, views of the storm damage appear to be in the range of F3 or higher," he said, referring to the scientific Fujita scale that measures tornado strength.
F3 tornadoes have winds of between 158 and 206 miles per hour and are capable of severe damage, with roofs and some walls torn off well-constructed houses, and most trees uprooted. F5 is the highest on the scale. (
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. Gov. Bob Holden has declared a state of emergency.
• Missouri emergency officials reported deaths in Barton, Christian, Jasper and Cedar counties. In Stockton, the county 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."
• In Polk County, sheriff's dispatcher Bevin Arnett described "extensive" damage in two towns, Humansville and Dunnegan. "We have had trees in the road, power lines down, houses in the road, a bunch of rescues and injuries," she said.
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 major damage and 30 suffered some damage. Two people were injured. According to Atkins, most of the storm damage occurred between the towns of Linwood and Basehor. Damage assessment teams are scheduled to go out in the morning. Paul Backs, also with the emergency office, said the twister "tore up barns, grain silos, ripped up a lot of trees."
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.
• Tornado damage to buildings and homes was also reported in Obion and Weakly counties in western Tennessee, Pickering said. An earlier report of a death in Dyer County proved to be erroneous, he said, although tornado damage to buildings there was reported.