Tornadoes, Storms Kill 21 Across U.S. - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Tornadoes, Storms Kill 21 Across U.S.

Residents survey the damage from a tornado that ripped through the city of Picher, Oklahoma, May 10, 2008. (AP/Sheilah Miller, Tulsa World) Residents survey the damage from a tornado that ripped through the city of Picher, Oklahoma, May 10, 2008. (AP/Sheilah Miller, Tulsa World)
Several homes sit destroyed by a tornado strike near Seneca, Mo., on Saturday, May 10, 2008. (AP/Roger Nomer, The Joplin Globe) Several homes sit destroyed by a tornado strike near Seneca, Mo., on Saturday, May 10, 2008. (AP/Roger Nomer, The Joplin Globe)
Firefighters search an overturned car in Seneca, Mo. following a tornado Saturday, May 10, 2008. (AP/Roger Nomer, The Joplin Globe) Firefighters search an overturned car in Seneca, Mo. following a tornado Saturday, May 10, 2008. (AP/Roger Nomer, The Joplin Globe)
Glenn Waggoner surveys a hole torn into the roof of the Pinecrest Private School by a severe storm Saturday, May 10, 2008, in Bentonville, Ark. (AP Photo/The Morning News, Marc F. Henning) (AP PHOTO) Glenn Waggoner surveys a hole torn into the roof of the Pinecrest Private School by a severe storm Saturday, May 10, 2008, in Bentonville, Ark. (AP Photo/The Morning News, Marc F. Henning) (AP PHOTO)
(AP) After flying over the wreckage of a town flattened by a tornado, Gov. Brad Henry said Sunday he expects the toll of deadly storms on Oklahoma to stop at six.

Before walking through a 20-block area smashed by a twister, Henry got an aerial view of the damage in this town, once a bustling mining center of 20,000 that shrank to 800 people as families fled lead pollution.

"There are certainly real challenges in the days and months ahead but we Oklahomans are excellent at responding to challenge, to adversity, to disaster," Henry said. "We come together. We help each other out."

Henry said he had spoken with emergency officials, who lowered the death toll from seven to six and reported that everyone who had been reported missing had since been found. One body was counted twice, said state Highway Patrol Lt. George Brown.

At least 14 others were killed when the same storm system produced a tornado in neighboring Missouri. Two additional storm-related deaths were reported in Georgia.

Residents said the tornado created a surreal scene as it moved through town.

"I swear I could see cars floating," said Herman Hernandez, 68. "And there was a roar, louder and louder."

Broken glass was strewn around the inside of 30-year-old Michael Richardson's home, but a wrapped Mother's Day gift and a laptop computer were left unscathed on the kitchen counter.

Some homes were reduced to the foundation, others lost several walls. In one home, the tornado knocked down a bedroom wall, but left clothes hanging neatly in a closet.

A Best Western hotel sign was blown miles before coming to rest against a post.

Frank Geasland, Ottawa County's emergency manager, said a government-sponsored buyout of homes in the town left some residences vacant, and this may have prevented a greater loss of life.

He said evidence of storm damage could be seen in a 15-mile path through the county, with a 20-block swath the hardest hit area in the 5:39 p.m. twister.

Proof of the tornado's power could be seen Sunday in the mattresses and twisted metal sent high into the canopy of trees.

"The federal government will be moving hard to help," President Bush said. "I'll be in touch with the governors and offer all of the federal assistance we can."

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., was in Picher Sunday and said he has been in touch with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and that he would work with Henry to request and expedite government aid to help with the damage.

The area is part of a Superfund site and residents have been asked to take part in state and federal buyouts in recent years.

"From what I've been able to determine, that wouldn't have any bearing on whether a disaster declaration would come forth," Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Earl Armstrong said.

The National Weather Service sent out a tornado warning at 5:26 p.m., 13 minutes before the tornado hit Picher, said David Jankowski, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Tulsa. Tornado sirens warned residents to take shelter.

Many families have moved away from Picher to escape the lead pollution left by mining operations. The towering piles of mining waste, or chat, had debris from the flattened homes scattered onto them by the storms.

The tornado could be the final straw for those remaining residents who have been reluctant to leave, said John Sparkman, head of the local housing authority.

"I think people probably have had enough," he said. "This has just affected so many lives.

"There's just nothing to build back to any more."

Dozens of emergency vehicles from around the state could be seen in the area Sunday morning, amid overturned cars and dogs roaming freely.

At one home, a basketball goal planted in concrete had its metal support twisted so the rim hung only about 3 feet above ground.

Ed Keheley, an area resident who'd been involved with a trust to buy out Picher residents, was headed to town to help out Saturday night when his path was blocked by debris. When he stopped his vehicle and got out, he heard a woman screaming and looked over to see her hand reaching out of debris.

"She was sitting in the bathtub, she had curlers in her hair and she wanted out of there," Keheley said.

Keheley and several others were able to pull the woman from the debris.

This was the deadliest tornado in Oklahoma since a May 3, 1999, twister that killed 44 people in the Oklahoma City area.

"People were just wandering up and down the streets. Some had blood on them, some were dazed," Keheley said.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. George Brown said Picher's victims included an infant.

"We've seen homes that were completely leveled to the foundation," Brown said. "In a few of these homes you would have had to be subterranean to survive."

Geasland said dozens of people were injured, some seriously. The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management reported 150 injuries.

"Trees are toppled over, ripped apart," he said. "There are cars thrown everywhere. It looks like a bomb went off, pretty much."

Brown said 32 people were transported to Integris Baptist Hospital in the nearby town of Miami. Of those, 26 were treated and released.

The National Weather Service estimated that at least eight tornadoes had been spawned in Oklahoma along six storm tracks. Three teams were dispatched to assess damage, determine exactly how many separate tornadoes had touched down and assign each one a rating, meteorologist Steve Amburn said.

In Seneca, Mo., about 20 miles southeast of Picher near the Oklahoma state line, crews on Sunday combed farm fields looking for bodies and survivors. Ten of the dead were killed when a twister struck near Seneca.

Nineteen people were hospitalized in Newton County, which includes Seneca, said Keith Stammer, acting spokesman the county emergency operations. He did not know the extent of their injuries.

Susie Stonner, a Missouri emergency management spokeswoman, said it was unclear how many homes were damaged or destroyed. But she said Newton County officials had initial estimates of 50 homes damaged or destroyed there.

Storms also rumbled across Georgia on Sunday, killing at least one person in Dublin, about 120 miles southeast of Atlanta, authorities said. Weather officials had not yet confirmed whether the storms produced any tornadoes.

The body was found in the rubble of a mobile home, said Bryan Rogers, the Laurens County administrator.

A second person found in the home, who state and local authorities initially reported had died, was hospitalized in critical condition, said Lisa Janak of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Two children were also found in the wreckage but were unharmed, he said.

In storm-weary Arkansas, a tornado Saturday night collapsed a home and a business, and there were reports of a few people trapped in buildings, said Weather Service meteorologist John Robinson.

Tornadoes killed 13 people in Arkansas on Feb. 5, and another seven were killed in an outbreak May 2. In between was freezing weather, persistent rain and river flooding that damaged homes and has slowed farmers in their planting.

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