PIEDMONT, Okla. – In storm-weary middle America, many people counted themselves lucky Thursday after powerful storms swept through the region for the third time in four days but apparently claimed no lives.
Dozens of people were injured, mobile homes were flipped and roofs were torn off houses when tornadoes and thunderstorms hit Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and other states Wednesday evening.
Early Thursday, forecasters withdrew a slew of tornado watches in the South and said the heavy weather that pounded the Midwest in recent days had finally receded. Nevertheless, violent storms could not be ruled out elsewhere.
In southern Indiana, residents used flashlights to check on their homes, barns and neighbors near Bloomington after powerful winds overturned two mobile homes. Crews worked overnight to clear uprooted trees and downed power lines after a tornado touched down in a mostly rural area about 25 miles south, near Bedford.
Authorities began assessing the storm damage after daybreak, tallying up the number of homes damaged and destroyed. More than a dozen people were injured, including several children, but those living in the most affected areas said they were relieved no one was killed.
Brad Taylor, who lives in a mobile home park near Bloomington where one trailer was toppled and another was destroyed, said he, his wife and their two children rode out the storm by hiding in a closet. The trailer lost some siding and a window was blown out, but it was still standing.
“I’m just thankful everybody’s alive,” Taylor said.
A neighbor, 19-year-old Brandon Arthur, said he has never been so scared.
“All I know is the power went out, the trailer started shaking and I looked out the window and there was green lightning,” said Arthur, whose trailer survived except for its wooden deck.
Marie Mason, who owns the trailer park with her ex-husband, Sam Mason, looked bewildered as she sifted through the debris of his trailer for a cell phone. She wanted to call him in the Philippines to tell him what happened. Moments later, neighbors found his dog dead in a nearby field, and she knelt over the animal and cried.
Her son was bruised and bloodied by the storm, but was treated at a hospital and would be all right, she said.
“The good thing is everybody’s here to talk about it,” Marie Mason said. “I’ve got a lot to be grateful for. Things can be replaced. People can’t.”
Wednesday’s storms followed a deadly outbreak of violent weather a day earlier in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas that killed at least 16 people, including a 3-year-old Oklahoma boy whose body was found along a lakeshore near his home Thursday. On Sunday, the nation’s deadliest single tornado since the National Weather Service started keeping records in 1950 killed 125 in the southwest Missouri city of Joplin.
The weather service canceled tornado watches and warnings for most of Mississippi, northwestern Alabama and central Kentucky on Thursday. Jared Guyer, a forecaster at the NOAA National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, in Norman, Okla., said the situation had calmed to a “relative lull.”
“We don’t have any existing watches,” Guyer said Thursday. “There is a severe threat, but not on the magnitude of the last few days.”
He said the Appalachians, parts of the Southeastern U.S., and the upper Ohio Valley into the northeastern U.S. remained at “severe risk.”
A tornado damaged several homes and businesses Wednesday afternoon in the central Missouri city of Sedalia, causing minor injuries to as many as 25 people. Officials said most of the injured were able to get themselves to the hospital for treatment.
“Considering the destruction that occurred in Joplin — being that we’re in tornado alley and Sedalia has historically been hit by tornadoes in the past — I think people heeded that warning,” Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said. “And so, I think that helped tremendously.”
Sedalia ended its school year several days early because the school buses were damaged.
Sean McCabe was rushing to the basement of his mother’s home in Sedalia when the tornado struck and shoved him down the final flight of steps. The 30-year-old suffered scrapes and cuts on his hands, wrists, back and feet. He said neighbors and firefighters helped him get out.
Most of the roof was ripped off the house, which was among the more heavily damaged homes in the area. McCabe, who has a service dog for epilepsy, said both his family’s dogs survived, including one found muddy and wet about a block away.
Elsewhere in the hard-hit neighborhood, law officers stood on corners and electrical crews worked on power lines. Numerous trees were down, and tarps were covering some houses while others were missing chunks of their roofs. People were cleaning debris and sifting through belongings.
Heavy rain, hail and lightning pounded Memphis on Wednesday night as a tornado warning sounded. There were no confirmed reports of tornadoes touching down.
Elsewhere in Tennessee, strong winds from thunderstorms damage homes and wrecked a convenience store in Smithville, about 55 miles east of Nashville. The Rutherford County emergency management director reported a possible tornado southeast of Murfreesboro just before midnight.
In Illinois, strong winds, rain and at least four possible tornadoes knocked down power lines and damaged at least one home and a number of farm buildings across the central and eastern parts of the state.
“Mostly it was shingles off roofs and garages,” said Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson.