- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

PIERCE CITY, Mo. (AP) — Searchers using dogs and heavy equipment went from one crumbled home to another yesterday, trying to find victims of tornadoes that flattened communities in four Midwestern states and killed at least 38 persons.Ten more were missing, eight of them in this southwestern Missouri town.It was “the most devastating series of tornadoes we’ve ever had in the state of Missouri,” Gov. Bob Holden said after touring Pierce City.The storms were blamed for at least 18 deaths in Missouri, seven in Kansas and 13 in Tennessee, where a single tornado carved a 65-mile path of destruction. The storms also brought hail and heavy rain; three of the victims drowned trying to drive on a flooded road near Nashville, Tenn.”It’s worse than a nightmare,” said Stacy Silverwood, whose grandparents were killed by a twister that blew parts of their Camden County, Mo., house down a hill and into a pond about a half-mile away. There was nothing left of their home, barn and many trees.The storms were part of a huge weather system that also spawned twisters during the weekend and early yesterday in Arkansas, Mississippi, western Kentucky, South Dakota and Nebraska. The National Weather Service posted new tornado warnings in Kentucky and Tennessee as the storm system moved eastward.One of the hardest-hit areas was Madison County, Tenn., where 10 persons were killed. Rescue crews with cadaver dogs were searching a small lake for a father and son who were missing.In Jackson, the county seat, streets were blocked by fallen trees, twisted sheets of metal, downed power lines and bricks from buildings that crumbled in the storm. Officials said at least 70 homes east of downtown were destroyed.In Pierce City, where Sunday’s storms killed two persons and struck nearly every home and business in the town of 1,400, Mayor Mark Peters said tornado-warning sirens did sound in advance.A hand-scrawled list on the door of City Hall listed eight townspeople as “possibly missing,” but town officials were hopeful they would be found alive. Several other names had been marked through, replaced by reassuring entries about those people’s whereabouts.Officials initially feared the missing were dead in the rubble of the National Guard Armory, where several townspeople had taken shelter as the storm approached. One body was pulled from the nearly leveled building during the night.But after searchers accompanied by dogs dug through the unstable debris, regional emergency official Glenn Dittmar said he was nearly certain no one else would be found there.In Jackson, a tornado warning was issued 22 minutes before the twister hit. That gave lawyer Joe Byrd and law clerk Jen Free plenty of time to get from his office to a concrete storage area in the basement.”It’s like downtown Baghdad,” Mr. Byrd said of the destruction he found when they emerged from the shelter. Miss Free, 24, said she ran to a nearby hotel to help get the elderly out of their apartments.In Kansas, 80 homes were damaged or destroyed in Crawford County, at least 20 of them in the Franklin area.”It wiped out a third of the town, I hate to say it,” said Edlon Bedene, the county emergency management director. “The trees are like somebody came in and cut them off 10 feet above the ground.”President Bush, visiting Little Rock, Ark., said the government would move as quickly as possible to help the storm-damaged areas.

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