Midwest, South Face Tornadoes' Aftermath
May. 06, 2003
PIERCE CITY, Mo. (AP) _ As stunned residents stumbled through the rubble of their towns after tornado-packed storms roared through Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee, others began mourning at least 37 people killed in only a few seconds of nature's fury.
Ten people were still missing early Tuesday, including eight in this southwestern Missouri town. A curfew was announced in several hard-hit communities and police were deployed to stop any potential looting.
Missouri Gov. Bob Holden asked the White House to declare a federal disaster in 39 counties. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declared disasters or emergencies in several counties.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael D. Brown was to tour Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties in Kansas early Tuesday, before heading to Lawrence County in Missouri.
In Pierce City, the storm ravaged the four-block-long business district, tossing heavy debris like toothpicks but leaving some areas strangely undisturbed.
At American Legion Post 66, the big plate-glass window was shattered, but tables and chairs were still lined up inside for bingo. A green wall clock kept the correct time.
The town of nearly 1,400 residents had been working to refurbish the downtown area to attract tourists to its many antique stores, thrift shops and cafes.
``It sounded like 100 freight trains crashing all at once,'' said Ray Roux, 50, in Pierce City. Except for a few shredded trees, his property looked unscathed.
``How can we save this?'' business owner Cindy Gitchel asked the governor during a tour, gesturing to a once-quaint building that was now just rubble. ``This town is 130 years old and you just don't find this anymore.''
``The reason this town is 130 years old is because of people like you,'' the governor answered, with Gitchel sobbing. ``This town will be back.''
One of the hardest hit areas was Madison County, Tenn., where 10 people 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, power lines and bricks. Officials said at least 70 homes east of downtown Jackson were destroyed and streets were littered with snapped trees and utility poles.
``Our prayers, and I hope your prayers, are with those whose loved ones who lost life or those who lost their homes,'' said President Bush, in Little Rock, Ark., as part of an economic development program.
The storms were blamed for at least 17 deaths in Missouri, seven in Kansas and 13 in Tennessee. 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 part of their Camden County, Mo., house down a hill and into a pond a half-mile away.
A hand-scrawled list on the door of Pierce City's City Hall listed eight townspeople as ``possibly missing,'' but town officials were hopeful they would be found alive.
Officials initially feared the missing were dead in the rubble of the National Guard Armory, where several townspeople took shelter as the storm approached. One body was found in the building during the night.
But after searchers accompanied by dogs dug through the debris, regional emergency official Glenn Dittmar said he was nearly certain no one else would be found in the armory.
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,'' Byrd said of the destruction he found when they emerged from the shelter. Free, 24, said she ran to a nearby hotel to help get the elderly out of their apartments.
``I was knocking on doors, yelling to everyone they needed to get out,'' Free said. ``They were walking down the stairs holding hands and being amazingly calm.''
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