By CHRISTINA HUYNH and TIM TALLEY, AP
MAYFLOWER, Ark. — A broad tornado sliced through Little Rock’s suburbs Sunday, killing 11 people and leaving behind a miles-long path of destruction as a powerful system rumbling off the Plains provided a violent kick-start to the nation’s tornado season.
The scene was the same in town after town, with emergency workers and volunteers going door-to-door to check for victims. State troopers performed the same task among the damaged and toppled 18-wheelers, cars and trucks on a two-mile stretch of Interstate 40, a major thoroughfare in and out of Arkansas’ capital city.
“It turned pitch black,” said Mark Ausbrooks, who was at his parents’ home in Mayflower when the storm arrived. “I ran and got pillows to put over our heads and … all hell broke loose.”
“My parents’ home, it’s gone completely,” he said.
Forecasters had warned for days that violent weather would strike this weekend, ending an unusually calm weather pattern. A morning storm forced a delay at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon and by afternoon the weather system had grown deadly, spawning a tornado that killed a person in Quapaw, Oklahoma, before moving north into Kansas and destroying dozens of homes in Baxter Springs.
The twister was estimated to be three blocks wide when it struck Baxter Springs, destroying 60 to 70 homes and 20 to 25 businesses in the city of roughly 4,200 residents, according to Cherokee County, Kan., emergency manager Jason Allison.
The twister injured 25 people in Baxter Springs and one person died, but it wasn’t clear if the death was related to the storm, said Kari West, a spokeswoman for the Southeast Kansas Incident Management Team.
More storms are expected Monday in the South and Mississippi Valley.
Becky Naylor, of Mayflower, said she and her family went to their storm cellar after that tornado debris was falling in nearby Morgan. Naylor, 57, said there were between 20 and 22 people in the cellar and they were “packed like sardines.”
“Everyone is welcome to come into it,” she said. “In fact, people were pulling off the highways and were just running in.”
She said the men held the cellar doors shut while the tornado did its best to pull them open.
“It sounded like a constant rolling, roaring sound,” she said. “Trees were really bending and the light poles were actually shaking and moving. That’s before we shut the door and we’ve only shut the door to the storm cellar two times.”
Matt DeCample, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe, put the Arkansas death toll at 11 — five each in Faulkner and Pulaski counties and one in White County. He said Beebe’s office was relying on reports confirmed through the state Department of Emergency Management.
In Arkansas, Pulaski County Sheriff’s Lt. Carl Minden said three died at a home on the Pulaski/Saline county line about 10 miles west of Little Rock. Minden said several others were injured at the scene.
“I’m standing on the foundation of the house now. It’s totally gone,” Minden told The Associated Press by phone.