Tornadoes Sweep Across Southern States, Killing At Least 17

A severe storm in the central and southern states has caused several tornadoes and killed at least 17 people. 

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A storm in the central and southern states has caused several tornadoes and killed at least 17 people.

There were severe weather warnings (including a "particularly dangerous situation" warning) all weekend as the National Weather Service tracked the storm, and Sunday saw its first fatalities. A tornado touched down in Quapaw, Oklahoma, killing one (initial reports said two were killed, but that's been changed) and injuring many more. One official told the AP that "about half of town got extensive damage as well as the fire department."

Another tornado (or possibly more than one tornado) hit Arkansas' Pulaski, Faulkner and White counties, killing 15. From Mayflower, a small town about 20 miles north of Little Rock:

The tornado was described by The Weather Channel as "massive," leaving "heavy damage" in its wake, while the National Weather Service said it was "violent" and "has caused extensive destruction."

"It's been a truly awful night for many families, neighborhoods and communities," Arkansas governor Mike Beebe tweeted. "But Arkansans always step up to help each other recover."

Here's a video of one of those storm chasers driving towards the tornado and somehow not getting hurt:

Update 7:19 a.m.: The death toll from tornadoes in Arkansas has jumped from 12 to 16 and another death has been reported in Iowa, raising the total number killed in the massive storms up to 18 overnight, according to a number of news outlets.

President Barack Obama, speaking from the Philippines, told those affected that they should expect help and support from the government. "I want all affected to know FEMA is on the ground and will help Americans in need, and your country will be there to help and rebuild as long as it takes," he said.

The Arkansas Department of Energy Management told Fox News that Faulkner County, which includes the towns of Mayflower and Vilonia, appears to have been hit the hardest. The county suffered 10 of the 18 total casualties and saw buildings reduced to rubble. According to a representative from the Vilonia sheriff's office, the town is seeing a "mass casualty situation." Arkansas Congressman Tim Griffin told Reuters that "an entire neighborhood of 50 or so homes has been destroyed. Many homes are completely gone except the foundation." The National Weather Service said the storm in Faulkner would be considered the strongest this year. 

Aerial footage of the damage in Arkansas, shot by a camera-equipped drone, shows the scope of the disaster:

Because the storm hit in the dark, officials said it would be impossible to assess the damage until today. It seems pretty devastating, based on photographs:

Tushka, Oklahoma. AP/Sue Ogrocki

Mayflower, Arkansas. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

Mayflower, Arkansas. REUTERS/Gene Blevins 

This is the second storm to hit Vilonia in three years. Four residents were killed in a tornado that touched down in the town in 2011.

Update 2:11 p.m.: Arkansas officials revised the total state death toll down to 14, saying they had counted two victims twice. This brings the total death toll down to 16 from 18, though the number of casualties could still rise.

Update, 7:21 p.m.: Another death has been reported in Arkansas, bringing the state's total to 15.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.