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Two Dead As Tornadoes Hit Southwest Mo.

December 18, 2002

CHESAPEAKE, Mo. (AP) _ Residents sifted through debris Wednesday and counted their blessings after deadly tornadoes swept through parts of southwest Missouri.

Thunderstorms rolled through Lawrence and Barton counties west of Springfield late Tuesday and early Wednesday, spawning tornadoes that killed two people and injured at least 20 others.

Debra F. Pennell, 32, was killed and five people were injured when a tornado touched down south of Kenoma about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, Barton County Sheriff William Griffitt said. At least two homes, one mobile home and some outbuildings were destroyed.

Marjorie Hawkins, 47, was killed and her husband, Larry, was blown out of a window into a field as a storm destroyed their house in Chesapeake, Lawrence County Sheriff Doug Seneker said. Fourteen other people were injured _ two critically _ and about a dozen homes were destroyed at the nearby Lucky Lady mobile home park.

Larry Hawkins was hospitalized with internal injuries, scrapes and bruises. A friend of his, Wyatt Zornes, said Hawkins remembered huddling with his wife as the storm approached.

``They told each other that they love each other, and then the house fell apart and he was sucked up into the air,″ Zornes said.

Lue Stelling’s mobile home was among the first to be hit at the Lucky Lady. She said she opened the door and saw the storm, grabbed her daughter and threw herself into a ditch.

``At first, it sounded like a train. Then, it sounded like a bunch of blades cutting things up,″ Stelling said.

Stelling, holding a yellow plastic grocery bag with a few socks, T-shirts and undergarments she retrieved, was grateful for what she didn’t lose: ``I may not have nothing, but we got out alive and that’s all that matters.″

Drew Albert, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Springfield, said the storm system produced three tornadoes, one each near Chesapeake, Kenoma and Humansville. Investigators spent Wednesday trying to determine the storm’s path and strength, he said.

Additional tornado watches were posted Wednesday as the storm system moved out of the central Midwest. Albert said although tornadoes are uncommon in December, they can occur year-round when cold air collides with warm, moist air moving north from the Gulf of Mexico.

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