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Deadly Storms Pummel Midwest, Spawning Floods, Tornadoes

April 26, 2011 at 5:53 PM EDT
Severe flooding, high winds and tornadoes swept across the Midwest, leaving at least 10 people dead in Arkansas after a spate of violent weather on Monday. Jeffery Brown has the latest on the rescue operations and emergency evacuations.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Severe flooding and tornado damage dominated the day across much of the Midwest, after a wave of violent weather overnight. At least 10 people were killed in Arkansas, with the search for victims continuing. And parts of Missouri were being submerged.

For the people of Poplar Bluff in southeastern Missouri, it was a day of slow torture, watching the waters of the Black River rise, but helpless to stop it.

WOMAN: It’s very shocking. You know, just — it’s sad. It’s really sad. Look at all these homes.

JEFFREY BROWN: Some 1,000 households in the town of 17,000 people were ordered to evacuate and officials warned the total could swell to 6,000 homes if there’s a full-scale levee break. Several hundred people took shelter at the city’s Black River Coliseum concert hall. They retreated there after deputies went door to door with a warning.

MAN: You need to get your children and some suitcases and get out as fast as you can and go to the Coliseum there, that this area’s been evacuated.

JEFFREY BROWN: By this morning, Sheriff Mark Dobbs reported the river had poured over a critical levee in at least 30 places.

MARK DOBBS, Butler County, Mo.: This is the levee and the road would be to my right. I was just no more than 10 minutes ago and where I’m standing now wasn’t underwater.

JEFFREY BROWN: Crews did shore up a weaker section of the levee overnight, but their work was in danger of being overwhelmed by a series of powerful storms in recent days.

More than six inches of rain fell around Poplar Bluff on Monday, bringing the four-day total for the area to 15 inches. There was also a risk of record flooding in parts of Kentucky and Illinois. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was even considering the extraordinary step of blowing holes in a levee at Birds Point, Mo. That would flood 130,000 acres, but relieve pressure on a levee upstream at Cairo, Ill.

Meanwhile in Arkansas, an apparent tornado destroyed most of the town of Vilonia, just north of Little Rock, on Monday night. The storm cut a swathe of destruction 3 miles wide and 15 miles long.

MAN: And the next thing I knew, I looked out and it was raining so hard you couldn’t see nothing. And then it started doing all this. So — it happened so fast.

JEFFREY BROWN: The storm tore power poles out of the ground, leaving wires draped across roads, and trees that had once lined yards now lay on top of homes.

WOMAN: What kind of wind, what kind of strength did it take to pick those things up like that? I mean, they’re big. And we had lots and lots of them and I don’t think we have a tree standing now.

JEFFREY BROWN: The rain also triggered flash flood watches through Wednesday morning for most of the state. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe declared a state of emergency and toured the damage today.

GOV. MIKE BEEBE, D-Ark.: Well, I’m amazed that we haven’t had any more loss of life, based upon the amount of damage that you’re looking at.

JEFFREY BROWN: A state of emergency was enforced across Kentucky as well.

The worst of the system was heading north and east, but a second round of storms was expected to follow later in the week.