KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Shaken residents spent New Year’s Day sifting through the wreckage wrought by tornadoes that touched down in several states on the last day of 2010, killing seven people and injuring dozens of others.
Six people — three in Missouri and three in Arkansas — died Friday as tornadoes fueled by unusually warm air pummeled the South and Midwest. A seventh person who was injured Friday in Missouri died Saturday, said Bruce Southard, the chief of the Rolla Rural Fire Department.
The woman, identified by Phelps County Emergency Management as 74-year-old Ethel Price, was entertaining a friend, Alice Cox, 69, of Belle, Mo., in her trailer when the twister hit.
Southard said nothing was left of the trailer except for the frame, and that the twister scattered debris 40 to 50 yards from where the trailer was sitting. The women were found under a pile of debris, and Cox died Friday, Southard said.
“It’s like you set a bomb off in it,” Southard said. “It just annihilated it.”
At a farm not far away, 21-year-old Megan Ross and her 64-year-old grandmother Loretta Anderson died when a tornado hit where their family lived among three mobile homes and two frame houses, Dent County Emergency Management Coordinator Brad Nash said.
In Mississippi, the National Weather Service confirmed Saturday evening that three tornadoes ripped through the central part of the state on New Year’s Eve, causing heavy damage and injuring three people. Officials say it damaged structures, blew out billboards, uprooted trees and overturned a tanker trailer.
The cost of the storm wasn’t immediately known, but it was expected to be steep.
In Missouri, state officials received initial reports from nine counties that as many as 280 homes and other structures sustained damage and that at least 50 of them were destroyed.
Especially hard hit was Fort Leonard Wood, where about 30 homes were destroyed and about 65 others were in need of repair, and the St. Louis area, where more than 100 structures were damaged or destroyed, said Mike O’Connell, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said 39 homes and 40 businesses were destroyed or seriously damaged by the large storm system. About 6 inches of rain fell in places, leading to flash flooding.
And emergency management officials in Arkansas say 14 homes and one business in Washington County sustained damage, while in Benton County, 13 homes and five businesses sustained damage.
Missouri’s governor, Jay Nixon, began the new year meeting with emergency workers, cleanup crews and residents in the heavily damaged St. Louis County town of Sunset Hills before heading to Rolla.
“It is destruction unlike anything I’ve seen,” said Nixon spokesman Sam Murphey, who was part of the tour. “It’s incredible.”
Both Nixon and Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe declared states of emergency that could make it easier to eventually obtain federal funding to help with the cleanup effort.
In the northwestern Arkansas hamlet of Cincinnati, volunteers from as far away as Ohio came to help after a twister packing winds up to 140 mph claimed three lives. Gerald Wilson, 88, and his wife, Mamie, 78, died in their home and Dick Murray, 78, was killed as he was milking cows.
Washington County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Richard Green said residents in the town of about 100 people were “doing as good as can be expected. This outpouring out of the community is helping a bunch.”
A shelter was open at the local United Methodist Church, where people could “get warm, get some food and a hot drink and warm up,” said Arthur Ashby, an emergency services specialist for the American Red Cross chapter in nearby Tontitown.
“They are tired … but every person I’ve seen has had a positive attitude and is excited to get things going again and rebuild and clean up,” Ashby said.
In Missouri, the Red Cross has been giving out hotel vouchers to displaced residents, and Fort Leonard Wood officials were finding places for displaced residents to stay.
Major Gen. David Quantock, the fort commander, said it was a “godsend” that the storm resulted in only four minor injuries there. He said efforts were focused on getting families that had been displaced “back to some level of normalcy.”
Emergency teams in Mississippi were also working Saturday to survey the damage. Forecasters at the National Weather Service’s building at the Jackson airport had been forced into a tornado shelter when winds hit 60 miles per hour.
“It was pretty intense,” said Ed Agre, a senior forecaster.
The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson reported that the storm forced the evacuation of about 200 people from the Jackson-Evers International Airport, where a possible tornado was reported crossing a runway.
Power was knocked out to about 20,000 customers, but by Saturday night, only about 1,500 remained without power. In Missouri, about 8,000 customers were left in the dark on New Year’s Eve, but less than 1,000 were still without power by the next day.