Multiple Deaths Reported As Tornadoes, Floods Roll Through South, Midwest

May 1, 2017
Originally published on May 1, 2017 5:42 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

At least 15 people are dead and more unaccounted for after a devastating line of thunderstorms moved through East Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi this weekend. Along with the storms, rivers in Missouri are cresting at levels not seen for a century and four tornadoes touched down east of Dallas. From Dallas, NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Saturday afternoon in Dallas was hot, muggy, with the smell of impending rain riding on a strong breeze. As the heat built through the afternoon, a long line of thunderstorms formed along the edge of the cold front that was pushing in from the west. A cluster of tornadoes began forming in East Texas a little after 4 with two powerful twisters plowing troughs of devastation for dozens of miles. The EF-3 that smashed into the town of Canton reached its tentacle to the ground about 5:45 and then just would not let go.

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CASON COLE: We're watching the trees in front of us. They're hitting the road, then coming back up.

GOODWYN: That's 18-year-old Cason Cole. He was visiting his friend's mobile home, and as the storm approached they hopped in their two cars and drove out onto the highway. Cole described to reporter Stella Chavez of member station KERA how his buddy fought and failed to stay on the road.

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COLE: And one tree comes down and he tries to, like, move out of the way, and then the wind pushes him off into the ditch. And then the tree falls down and, like, the top of the branches were on his car. Then we hear this loud sound and the tree had fallen behind us, so we're, like, trapped right in there in this little, like, gap.

GOODWYN: When they eventually extricated themselves and drove back to the mobile home, they discovered they'd made a wise choice. It had been wiped out. In southern Missouri, the rainfall was intense and flooding widespread, forcing Governor Eric Greitens to declare a state of emergency. Bridges are damaged and more than 350 roads have been closed. Brionna Johnson said the water came up so fast around her campus dormitory in West Plains, Mo., the cars in the parking lot were floating by before they realized they were in trouble.

BRIONNA JOHNSON: There's a creek on the side of where we stay and it was filled to the top. And, like, as time progressed it was just too late, so everybody was just running around, trying to figure out what to do.

GOODWYN: A 72-year-old Missouri woman drowned despite her husband's frantic efforts to save her after their vehicle was swept into the water. In Arkansas, the search continues for two children, 18 months and 4 years old, after their car was swept off a low-water bridge. Near Springdale, Ark., a 10-year-old girl drowned after she was carried away in a creek. Record flooding continues today in parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana while states in the Northeast brace for the weather heading their way. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.