Missouri Tornadoes Live Updates: Violent Storms Kill 3

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A tornado hit Jefferson City, Mo., late Wednesday. The storm destroyed buildings and led to at least 20 injuries.CreditCreditKTVI-TV, via Associated Press

CARTHAGE, Mo. — A series of powerful tornadoes whipped across the Midwest late Wednesday, killing at least three people in southwestern Missouri and destroying buildings and homes in that state’s capital, Jefferson City.

About 25 people were believed to be injured in Jefferson City, where roofs were ripped from their buildings and cars were scattered along debris-filled roads. The full scale of the devastation was not immediately clear, but emergency officials were going door-to-door searching for survivors and shelters were opened.

Officials said that roughly three square miles of Jefferson City had been especially hard hit, and that flying trees and debris were responsible for some of the at least 20 injuries that had been tallied in the capital.

Jay Banwell, a retired officer with the Army National Guard, said he awoke to alerts on his phone and the sound of whipping wind. When he rolled out of bed to look outside, the glass in his bedroom window “burst with an awful sound,” and the wind sucked his bedroom door closed.

“I could not jar my door loose to get out of my room,” said Mr. Banwell, 56. “I was basically in a room of swirling glass.”

Locations of Tornadoes Reported Wednesday

Source: National Weather Service

By The New York Times

At least three people were killed in a separate tornado in Golden City, Mo., which is about a two-hour drive southeast of the Kansas City area.

The victims included Kenneth G. Harris, 86, and Opal P. Harris, 83, who were found 200 yards from their home, according to Sgt. John Lueckenhoff, a spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Linda Brunner, who lives in the area, said she went past the Harris’s home as she drove through town to see if she could help anyone with cleanup.

“Their brick home must have taken a direct hit,” Ms. Brunner said. “There’s nothing left.”

The Highway Patrol said the third victim was Betty Berg, 56. Her husband, Mark, was seriously injured.

In addition to Jefferson City and Golden City, the governor’s office said the hardest-hit areas appeared to be Carl Junction and Eldon.

“We are very thankful we didn’t have any more fatalities than we did,” Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri said Thursday. “But three is too many.”

Mr. Parson, who spoke to reporters in Jefferson City, warned that the death toll could rise.

Golden City and Carl Junction are in the southwest corner of the state, near Joplin. The storms on Wednesday hit on the eighth anniversary of a tornado that killed 161 people in Joplin, one of the deadliest and most destructive tornadoes in American history.

Carl Junction, a town of 7,300 people, has been hit before, too. On May 4, 2003, a tornado swept through the center of the town, damaging schools, City Hall, dozens of homes and a few businesses. That storm was part of a multistate tornado outbreak that also wrecked much of the Missouri cities of Pierce City and Stockton.

Wednesday’s tornado hit the Briarbrook section of Carl Junction, a more affluent part of town, built around the Briarbrook Country Club and Golf Course.

Mike O’Connell, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety, said “scores of houses and buildings have been extensively damaged.”

The State Capitol building and the governor’s mansion in Jefferson City escaped unscathed, but the roof of a Department of Labor building was badly damaged, law enforcement officials said. The site of the former Missouri State Penitentiary, which is now a tourist attraction near the capitol building, also suffered significant damage.

At Lincoln University, a historically black college in Jefferson City, the storm tore the roof off the president’s residence — with the president inside. She escaped serious injury, said Misty Young, a university spokeswoman. “She was home, but went into the basement and rode out the storm,” Ms. Young said.

Ms. Young said the residence would “take months to repair.” Some other university buildings suffered minor damage, she added, but only a few people were on campus because courses have ended for the semester. Summer session will begin next week as planned.

The storm touched down on a cluster of car dealerships along a highway outside town, seriously damaging nearly all of the 500 cars on the lot, said Jay Schnieders, a general manager at the Riley Auto Group.

“Our service department is gone,” he said. “Our cars, they are just smashed and twisted and on top of each other. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Because of debris littering streets and concern that some buildings were in danger of collapse, Mr. O’Connell said nonessential state employees had been asked to stay home on Thursday.

River water was rising in the Jefferson City area on Thursday afternoon, and officials warned that levees could be overtopped and flooding was possible.

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Diane Kruger-Sargent comforted her twin daughters McKenzie, left, and JaiDyn as they took shelter on the first floor of a hotel in Jefferson City on Wednesday night.CreditWhitney Curtis for The New York Times

The tornadoes in Missouri were among the most violent bursts of severe weather in a week when forecasters feared life-threatening storms. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., had issued a “high” risk outlook for Oklahoma and Texas on Monday, an unusually grave indication of worrisome conditions.

Although some tornadoes formed on Monday, the worst of the week’s weather seemed to be unleashed Wednesday night and into the early hours of Thursday.

Tornado sirens went off in Jefferson City after 11 p.m. on Wednesday. “Violent tornado confirmed — shelter now!” the National Weather Service office in St. Louis warned the city’s 40,000 residents.

Not long after the storm had roared through Jefferson City, parts of the capital were cloaked in darkness, with the only illumination coming from police lights and cellphones.

Police officers blocked streets, including access to an apartment complex that the authorities feared was unstable.

Wayne Weldon, who is 75 and a double amputee, rode out the storm at home. When it was over, there was a hole in the roof in his guest bedroom, not far from where he took shelter. “I could see the sky,” he said.

A truck driver, David Bell, told CNN that he was driving on the highway with 44,500 pounds of soda in his trailer when he pulled over and his windshield exploded. He said the tornado swept up his truck and slammed it to the ground, trapping him inside.

He used a pocketknife to cut himself out of his seatbelt, he said, and climbed through the front windshield. “I’m grateful to be alive,” he said.

Tornadoes and widespread flooding also struck Oklahoma earlier in the week, and officials were preparing for another round of severe weather on Thursday and Friday.

Loose barges on the flooded Arkansas River spread fears in the small eastern Oklahoma town of Webbers Falls on Thursday morning, with officials warning that they could collide into a dam. Two connected barges came to a halt on rocks or an island in the middle of the debris-strewn river, but they later appeared to come loose again, as Oklahoma state troopers and other emergency workers tried to secure and tow them.

The runaway barges caused officials to close highway bridges and led town officials to post this urgent message on Facebook on Wednesday night: “Evacuate Webbers Falls immediately. The barges are loose and has the potential to hit the lock and dam 16. if the dam breaks it will be catastrophic!! Leave now!!”

Officials said two people died in floodwaters: A woman in the town of Perkins drowned when she drove around warning signs on a flooded road, and another person drowned in a vehicle in floodwaters in Lincoln County. The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said 44 injuries had been reported by local hospitals.

“Really, it’s just widespread damage across our entire state,” Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma told reporters Wednesday after taking a helicopter tour of hard-hit communities, adding, “The frightening part is we’ve got more, more rain and more storms on the forecast.”

State emergency management officials said there were five confirmed tornadoes in Oklahoma on Monday and six on Tuesday. Scattered tornadoes were also reported Wednesday night.

Sharp-eyed observers noted that the storm that hit Jefferson City lacked the familiar ropy vortex shape associated with tornadoes. Instead, the tornado was a thick wide band, a shape that informal tornado watchers call a “wedge tornado.”

The shape, according to Michael Tippett, a professor of applied mathematics at Columbia University, suggests that the tornado was likely a large one. The tornadoes “that caused the most damage and are the most dangerous are the ones which are large and long-lived and they have long track,” Dr. Tippett said. These storms can last for tens of miles instead of hundreds of yards.

The Storm Prediction Center said there was an “enhanced” risk for parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Forecasters also placed parts of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia on the same alert level.

Although meteorologists have refined tornado forecasting to the point of extraordinary precision, the storms can still strike with little notice. The National Weather Service issues tornado warnings if a tornado is spotted visually or on radar, and it broadcasts those warnings through local news outlets, weather radios and the internet, including the @NWSTornado Twitter page. Do not rely on community tornado sirens, which may malfunction or be too far away to be audible.

Climate change is increasingly linked to many forms of extreme weather. One analysis of extreme weather data found that human-caused climate change was a “significant driver” of 21 out of 27 extreme weather events, including droughts, floods and heat waves.

But tornadoes are different. Limited historical information, especially when compared with temperature data that goes back more than a century, makes it hard for researchers to determine whether the number of tornadoes is increasing, or if it’s just a matter of better reporting.

But a 2016 study in the journal Science found that tornado outbreaks, or tornadoes that occur in a bunch within the same weather system, were becoming more frequent.

  • Take cover, preferably in a basement or in an interior room without windows.

  • If you are driving and cannot reach a sturdy building, try to find shelter in a low-lying area.

  • Cover your head. Television forecasters often recommend bicycle helmets.

  • If there is damage after a storm, try to wear pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Avoid downed power lines.

John Hacker reported from Carthage, Alan Blinder from Atlanta, and Timothy Williams from New York. Sarah Mervosh and Kendra Pierre-Louis contributed reporting from New York, Manny Fernandez from Houston, and Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong.

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