At least 16 people are reported killed after tornadoes struck Arkansas. Rescuers are still looking through the rubble for any sign of survivors. An official with the National Weather Service in Little Rock, Arkansas says the storm has the potential to have been the biggest storm of the season and that he believes the storm was at least an F3. The storms are still packing a punch as it heads toward the Eastern Seaboard over the course of the next day.
Emergency officials were searching for survivors Monday in the debris left by a powerful tornado that carved an 80-mile path of destruction through suburban Little Rock, killing at least 16 people.
The tornado that slammed into Vilonia, about 10 miles west of the state capital, on Sunday evening grew to about half a mile wide and was among a rash of tornadoes and heavy storms that rumbled across the center and south of the country overnight. The National Weather Service warned that more tornadoes, damaging winds and very large hail would strike in parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana on Monday.
“We’ve got a powerful storm system affecting the eastern two-thirds of the United States over the next few days,” said Russell Schneider, director of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
Brandon Morris, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, said crews were sifting through the rubble in the hope of uncovering survivors and to assess the full extent of the destruction.
“Right now, the main focus is life safety,” Morris said. “We’re trying to make sure everyone is accounted for.”
Karla Ault, a Vilonia High School volleyball coach, said she sheltered in the school gymnasium as the storm approached. After it passed, her husband told her their home was reduced to the slab on which it had sat.
“I’m just kind of numb. It’s just shock that you lost everything. You don’t understand everything you have until you realize that all I’ve got now is just what I have on,” Ault said.
A meteorologist with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock said he was virtually certain the storm that hit Vilonia and nearby Mayflower would be rated as the nation’s strongest twister to date this year.
“It has the potential to be EF3 or greater,” meteorologist Jeff Hood said. EF3 storms have winds greater than 136 mph. “Based on some of the footage we’ve seen from Mayflower and where it crossed Interstate 40, things were wrecked in a very significant way.”