Tor­na­does strike na­tion’s heart­land, killing at least 12 and lash­ing towns

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY JIM SUHR AND

HAR­RIS­BURG, ILL. | A pre-dawn twis­ter flat­tened en­tire blocks of homes in a small Illi­nois town Wed­nes­day as vi­o­lent storms rav­aged the Mid­west, killing at least 12 peo­ple in three states.

Winds also ripped through the coun­try mu­sic mecca of Bran­son, Mo., dam­ag­ing some of the city’s fa­mous the­aters just days be­fore the start of the busy tourist sea­son.

The tor­nado that blasted Har­ris­burg in south­ern Illi­nois, killing six, was an EF4, the sec­ond-high­est rat­ing given to twis­ters based on dam­age. Sci­en­tists said it was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph.

By mid­day, towns­peo­ple in the com­mu­nity of 9,000 were sort­ing through piles of de­bris and re­mem­ber­ing their dead while the winds still howled around them.

Not long af­ter the storm, Dar­rell Os­man raced to his mother’s home, ar­riv­ing just in time to speak to her be­fore she was taken to a hospi­tal with a head in­jury, a se­vere cut to her neck and a bro­ken arm and leg.

“She was con­scious. I wouldn’t say she was co­her­ent. There were more mum­bles than any­thing,” he said. “She knew we were there.” Mary Os­man died a short time later. In Bran­son, an ap­par­ent twis­ter seemed to hop­scotch up the city’s main road­way. At least 37 peo­ple were re­ported hurt, mostly with cuts and bruises.

“We were blessed with sev­eral things — the time of year and cer­tainly the time of day, when peo­ple were not in their ve­hi­cles or out­doors,” said Mayor Raeanne Pres­ley, not­ing that dur­ing Bran­son’s peak sea­son, up to 60,000 vis­i­tors would have been in the city on any given day and stay­ing in many of the ho­tels that were dam­aged.

“If it was a week later, it’d be a dif­fer­ent story,” said Bill Tirone, as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager for the 530-room down­town Hil­ton ho­tel, where the in­tense wind shat­tered win­dows and sucked away fur­ni­ture. Ho­tel work­ers were able to get all guests to safety.

John Moore, owner of the dam­aged Cakesn-creams ‘50s Diner, said the tor­nado seemed to tar­get the city’s main strip, plow­ing through the en­ter­tain­ment dis­trict and a con­ven­tion cen­ter.

“The the­ater next to me kind of ex­ploded. It went ev­ery­where,” Mr. Moore said. “The ho­tels on the two sides of me lost their roofs.”

In Har­ris­burg, where six peo­ple were killed, sci­en­tists said the tor­nado was an EF4, the sec­ond-high­est rat­ing given to twis­ters based on dam­age. The storm was 200 yards wide with wind up to 170 mph, me­te­o­rol­o­gist Rick Shanklin said.

The wind was strong enough to blow the walls off some rooms at the Har­ris­burg Med­i­cal Cen­ter, leav­ing di­sheveled beds and mis­placed fur­ni­ture. The staff got enough warn­ing to move the most-en­dan­gered pa­tients. Then they heard the walls col­lapse, of­fi­cials said.

The hospi­tal dis­charged pa­tients who could go home or moved them to other med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties. But they also had to con­front an in­flux of in­jured.

“He­li­copters have been com­ing in and out here all morn­ing,” said hospi­tal CEO Vince Ash­ley.

In Mis­souri, one per­son was killed in a trailer park in the town of Buf­falo, about 35 miles north of Springfield. Two more fa­tal­i­ties were re­ported in the Cassville and Pux­ico ar­eas.

The tor­nado that bar­reled through the tiny east­ern Kansas town of Har­veyville was an EF2, with wind speeds of 120 to 130 mph, state of­fi­cials said. It left much of the com­mu­nity in rub­ble.

The twis­ters were spawned by a pow­er­ful storm sys­tem that blew down from the Rock­ies on Tues­day and was headed to­ward the East Coast.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Keith Hucke and Devyn Byrd, 14, sur­vey Mr. Hucke’s bat­tered be­d­room af­ter a se­vere storm hit Wed­nes­day dur­ing the early morn­ing hours in Har­ris­burg, Ill. A Hil­ton ho­tel (top) in Bran­son, Mo., shows the tor­nado-wind dam­age of a pow­er­ful storm sys­tem that lashed the Mid­west. Judy Hud­nall (be­low) is com­forted Wed­nes­day by her brother, Gene Pick­er­ill, af­ter see­ing the storm dam­age to her home in Hen­der­son, Ky. Tor­na­dos were blamed for much of the destruc­tion.

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