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Tornadoes in Arkansas Kill Seven

January 22, 1999

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Tornadoes ripped across the South for the second time in less than a week, killing at least seven people in two states and leaving thousands of people without power early today.

Wave after wave of twisters hit central Arkansas late Thursday afternoon and evening, collapsing roofs, knocking down power poles and leaving trees strewn about the grounds of the governor’s mansion. Six people died.

``The lights flickered a couple times, then it went black,″ said Derrick Stallworth, who was shopping in the Harvest Foods grocery when the storm struck. ``I decided to hit the floor, then I saw the roof coming down.″

In Tennessee, a tornado touched down in Clarksville this morning, ripping roofs off buildings. No deaths were reported there but one person died elsewhere in Tennessee. Just last Sunday, tornadoes killed nine people in the state.

Severe weather also pounded parts of Mississippi and Louisiana late Thursday, but there were no reports of serious injuries.

Two people were killed in the Little Rock area when trees fell on them, and a 67-year-old pharmacist at the damaged supermarket died of his injuries this morning. In Beebe, 30 miles to the northeast, a 2-month-old baby was blown out of a home and killed and another woman was found dead at her home.

At Center Hill, Searcy school board member Wanda Wilson died when her mobile home was hit, Superintendent Tony Wood said.

``We’re just lucky to be alive,″ Kelton Keathley said after a tornado wrecked his lot in Beebe.

``It swept everything up,″ said Lulynn, his daughter.

Arkansas utilities said the storms left 72,000 customers without power, and authorities opened five shelters from the Little Rock area to Newark, 90 miles to the northeast. Forecasters said perhaps as many as 30 tornadoes hit the state, though it will be days before field checks can confirm an exact number.

The storm that hit Little Rock began southwest of the city, passed near the state’s Fair Grounds and entered a residential area that includes the governor’s mansion. Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was dining in a nearby home at the time, said he and his family were fine.

``I’m going out to help my neighbors,″ he said.

The storm passed through a section of town that includes some of the city’s oldest homes, knocking down trees, some of them 100 years old.

``It was a real one, in the sky and coming down. Black and white. So many different colors,″ said Michelle Johnson, describing the tornado after it hit the Harvest Foods store.

The front of the grocery collapsed inward while 15 or so customers, including Stallworth, shopped inside. Seconds later, the storm had passed and he was pulling others to safety.

``Some aisles you couldn’t even see down,″ Stallworth said. Firefighters used scent-seeking dogs to make sure no one was missed.

At least 60 people were injured, including 45 in Little Rock. Parts of the state also reported grapefruit-size hail.

In Clarksville, Tenn., a city of 89,000 about 40 miles northwest of Nashville near the Kentucky state line, a twister hit about 4:15 a.m. today, heavily damaging the downtown and causing a dozen minor injuries.

The roof was ripped off the Montgomery County courthouse, much of a historic church was knocked down, trees and utility poles were blown over, and about 25,000 customers were without power.

``It looks like somebody walked through with a broom and knocked over whatever was loose enough to knock down,″ said Fred Dye, photo editor at The Leaf-Chronicle of Clarksville, whose building was heavily damaged.

``The newsroom is gone,″ Dye said. ``My department, I’ve got one wall standing.″

The Tennessee Highway Patrol said one person died in Big Sandy in Benton County, about 50 miles southwest of Clarksville.

On Sunday, the hardest-hit town was Jackson, about 100 miles southwest of Clarksville.

In Alexandria, La., an apparent tornado ripped apart businesses and downed electrical lines, cutting power to hundreds of residents.

``It was something you could just feel it encircling you,″ said Rhonda Baker as she surveyed the damage to a mall where she was working late processing tax loans. ``My ears started popping as everything went black I couldn’t see nothing _ and I could feel the building shaking.″

Mobile homes, trees and power lines were also damaged by high winds in Mississippi. In Greenville, just across the Mississippi River from Louisiana, Lori Wilkins recalled the storm.

``It was just like when you watch TV and these big funnel clouds pick up every kind of debris,″ she said. ``It was just like watching something like what I see on `National Geographic.‴

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