Weather

Residents take stock after night of tornadoes in central US

Posted May 17

— Residents of an Oklahoma subdivision and a Wisconsin trailer park that were leveled by deadly tornadoes sifted through what remained of their homes and possessions Wednesday, even as forecasters warned of another round of powerful storms on the horizon.

The twisters were among up to 29 that were reportedly spawned by powerful storms that raced through a swath of the central U.S. stretching from Texas to the Great Lakes on Tuesday evening, destroying dozens of homes, killing two people and injuring dozens of others.

The tornadoes, some of them still unverified a day later, touched down in five states: Wisconsin and Oklahoma, which each had one death and about 40 homes destroyed, and Texas, Kansas and Nebraska. The governors of Wisconsin and Oklahoma toured the destruction in their states Wednesday, and residents were allowed to sift through the wreckage.

In Elk City, a community of about 13,000 people roughly 110 miles (180 kilometers) west of Oklahoma City, Matt Bynum considers himself lucky. Most of his roof is intact, and he lost mainly windows.

The neighborhood buzzed Wednesday with chain saws, generators and a visit from Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who called the damage "devastating."

Bynum, 48, said he was doing what many people do when the weather picks up: watching it in his yard. Then he saw a funnel cloud and ran inside.

"I've lived in Oklahoma almost 50 years," he said. "I was one of those people who thought, 'Ah, it won't happen to me.' But never again."

He said he'll add one new feature to his redone home: a storm shelter, or safe room.

One man, 53-year-old Bo Mikles, was killed while apparently fleeing his home in his truck, which was thrown several hundred feet, said Danny Ringer, the Elk City Fire Department chaplain.

"It's heartbreaking and it's a very trying time for these families when you see the magnitude of the destruction," Fallin said after touring the damage.

A tornado also ripped through a mobile home park near the northwestern Wisconsin city of Chetek, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) northeast of Minneapolis. It destroyed dozens of homes, killed a man, 46-year-old Eric Gavin, and injured at least 25 other people, some seriously, authorities said.

Dale Daily, 61, said he heard the warning siren about a half-hour before the tornado hit the mobile home park. He said he and his wife drove away to safety and returned just after the twister left the area to find the park in ruins.

Daily said he walked among the debris and helped free a man who was buried under a refrigerator and debris.

"He had some bad head trauma going on and I didn't want him to go to sleep," Daily said.

Gary Schulz, who owns a rental storage business near the Prairie Lake Estate Mobile Home Park, said a twister claimed his business eight years ago but spared it this time around. Many of his neighbors in the trailer park weren't so fortunate.

"It was just chaos. It was just people searching for family members, for their pets, belongings," Schulz said of the aftermath.

Several poultry barns at a turkey processing plant across the street from the trailer park were badly damaged, and turkeys could be seen wandering in the debris.

One of the tornadoes that touched down Tuesday night destroyed about 20 homes in central Kansas.

Barton County spokeswoman Donna Zimmerman said the tornado that formed near Pawnee Rock remained on the ground for up to 15 miles (24 kilometers) before dissipating. She said initial reports were that it was more than 400 feet (120 meters) wide, and that it was "very fortunate" that it didn't strike in a more populated area.

In eastern Nebraska, winds damaged homes, farms and businesses and left thousands of people without electricity. Gusts of 85 mph (135 kph) were recorded at the weather service's office in Valley, west of Omaha. Lightning blew siding and bricks off a home in Lincoln and a funnel cloud was spotted about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southwest of the city, near Exeter, but no damage was reported.

In Iowa, the storms damaged homes and other buildings and knocked down trees, limbs and power poles, leaving thousands of people without power. The Iowa State Patrol said the strong winds knocked over some semitrailers on Interstate 29, which runs north-south along the Missouri River.

Tuesday's storms were part of two supercells that formed in the Texas Panhandle before moving to the north and east. National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Hultquist said the storms covered so much ground and were so powerful because of a combination of factors, including the dry Texas air that fed them and strong winds in the Great Lakes area.

The region could be in for more potentially damaging storms. Hultquist said a low-pressure system moving north from Nebraska on Wednesday was expected to bring strong thunderstorms to southeastern Minnesota and western portions of central and southern Wisconsin.

"There is definitely the potential for all the severe weather hazards," including tornadoes and hail, Hultquist said.

The weather service's Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma said storms with the potential to spawn tornadoes and dump large hail stones could hit the region Thursday.

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Moreno reported from Milwaukee. Associated Press writer Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

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Follow Adam Kealoha Causey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/akcausey and Ivan Moreno at https://twitter.com/Ivanjourno .

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