Tornadoes derail train, smash homes in N. Arizona

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BELLEMONT, Ariz. (AP) — Two tornadoes touched down in northern Arizona early Wednesday, derailing 28 cars of a parked freight train, blowing semis off the highway and smashing out the windows of dozens of homes.

The first tornado hit Bellemont — west of Flagstaff — around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday and the second touched down east of the small community a short time later.

Fifteen homes in Bellemont were so badly damaged that they were uninhabitable and the estimated 30 people who lived in them were evacuated. Authorities were setting up a shelter at midmorning Wednesday, said Coconino County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Gerry Blair.

About 30 RVs were damaged at a business in Bellemont that sells the vehicles and runs a camp ground for RVs.

No serious injuries or deaths were reported. Two crew members were on the train when it was cast off the tracks around 6:30 a.m. PDT, said Burlington Northern-Santa Fe spokeswoman Lena Kent, but neither was hurt.

The train was hauling cargo from ports in Los Angeles to the east and contained no hazardous materials. The derailed cars are blocking both main rail lines through the area, and the railroad expects to reopen one of the lines by midnight.

In the Baderville area, authorities had to pull a family out of a home where they had been trapped because of damage from the tornado. It wasn’t known whether anyone was trapped in homes in the Bellemont area, which is about 20 miles west of Flagstaff.

Severe weather is expected to continue through Wednesday, and comes a day after storms swept across the western U.S., dropping record-setting rain in northern Nevada, pounding Phoenix with hail, and dumping enough snow at the top of the Sierra to close a mountain highway pass.

Arizona has been hit hard since Monday by thunderstorms spinning off a low pressure system that has been parked over Central and Southern California. On Tuesday, a series of storms ripped out trees and broke windows in metropolitan Phoenix, flooded roadways, shut airports and brought hail as large as 2½ inches. The tornadoes that struck northern Arizona on Wednesday put an exclamation point on a very unusual week.

“The hammering that northern Arizona is getting right now is exceptional,” said NWS meteorologist Ken Waters in Phoenix. “It’s not uncommon these time of year to have one or two tornado reports or a warning, but this is quite an outbreak for them. It’s very, very unusual.”

The storm system was expected to weaken throughout Wednesday as it drifts northward, arriving in northern Nevada around noon Thursday.

Still, much of central and northern Arizona will remain under a tornado watch, meaning tornadoes are possible, until 5 p.m. Wednesday. The National Weather Service said Reno, Nev., and Sacramento, Calif., should see thunderstorms throughout the day.

Rainy weather snarled freeways and caused power outages in Southern California, and the National Weather Service said a storm could dump up to inch of rain in some areas before tapering off Thursday.

A big-rig that jackknifed on a slick freeway Wednesday morning backed up traffic for miles through the Newhall Pass on Interstate 5, the main road between downtown Los Angeles and the bedroom communities of the Santa Clarita Valley. No injuries are reported.

Southern California Edison says rain shorted out an insulator, leaving 1,200 customers without power in Long Beach.

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