Storms kill at least 22, including 15 in Mo.

May 12, 2008|By Miguel Bustillo and P.J. Huffstutter | Miguel Bustillo and P.J. Huffstutter,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOUSTON -- Search and rescue teams searched desperately for survivors yesterday after yet another barrage of tornadoes barreled through several states, killing at least 22 people.

The outbreak of devastating twisters Saturday evening - at least the fourth serious U.S. tornado disaster this year - took its heaviest toll in Missouri, where 15 were confirmed dead yesterday, including 12 in rural Newton County.

The tornado touched down in the state's southwest corner about 6 p.m. Saturday and cut a path of destruction nearly a mile wide at some points, according to National Weather Service officials. It left dozens injured and thousands without power and led state officials to fear that the death toll might rise.

"We've got some critically injured people in hospitals, and we're hoping they survive," said Susie Stonner, a spokeswoman for Missouri's emergency management agency, adding that National Guard personnel were helping with search and recovery. "This is a pretty rural area, and we're still trying to get a handle on how many were hurt, because a lot of buildings are just gone."

Just across the state line in northeastern Oklahoma, another six were reported dead in the town of Picher, which was ripped apart earlier by what might have been the same tornado. It was a final blow to the pollution-scarred former mining community, which was about to be abandoned under a government buyout program because it is sinking into the ground.

"The town was in the process of closing up, but there were still several hundred people here in town, and their houses are just destroyed," said John Sparkman, who had headed Picher's housing authority, and whose home was damaged. "I know some of the people [who died]. Some of my friends lost everything. It's just unbelievable what's happened."

More than 150 were injured in Picher, but by yesterday afternoon Gov. Brad Henry and state officials declared that all of the roughly 800 residents were accounted for, leading to optimism that the worst was known.

In Missouri, most of the casualties were in Neosho, a town of 11,200 at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Entire neighborhoods were leveled, with frame homes lifted off their foundations and smashed across roads and fields, said Jason Schaumann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's office in Springfield, Mo.

The system generated at least eight tornadoes, some as powerful as an EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale used to measure tornado power. That means the winds were at a minimum 136 mph to 165 mph, Schaumann said.

In Georgia, another set of storms killed at least one person in Dublin, and more than 80,000 people lost power, mainly in the Atlanta and Macon areas. More than 70,000 were still without power as of yesterday afternoon, said Georgia Power spokeswoman Carol Boatright.

Miguel Bustillo and P.J. Huffstutter write for the Los Angeles Times.

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