From Arkansas, where tornadoes devastated a small town, to Ohio and Kentucky, where floods swept cars off the roads and sucked two people down into culverts, a front of deadly storms splintered homes and killed at least 39 people over the weekend.
People who survived Saturday’s pounding winds called it the most violent day of weather in memory.
The storm front sent floods, tornadoes and springlike thunderstorms through eight states, as far south as Mississippi and Tennessee and as far north as Ohio, but no state suffered more than Arkansas.
There the twisting winds of several tornadoes flattened buildings and houses, killed 24 people and injured 200 in a few short hours Saturday night.
It seemed like “a year’s worth of tornadoes,” Gov. Mike Huckabee said Sunday.
Much of the havoc occurred in the college town of Arkadelphia, Ark., where tornadoes leveled most of the downtown area, killed six people, buried several of the 83 injured in rubble, and blew the clock and capstone off the Clark County courthouse.
A funeral home was in pieces. Cars were smashed. It was difficult to tell in some places where the wreckage from one building stopped and that of another began.
John Wilson, a city fire-rescue worker who survived the tornado under his couch, can’t shake the thought of another man who was not as fortunate.
On a highway outside town, Wilson came upon a vehicle that had been overrun by the wind.
Skid marks showed where the driver had apparently tried to lock his brakes against the tornado’s force.
“You could see the tire tracks, then all of a sudden they disappeared,” where the car was lifted from the roadway, Wilson said.
“Then on down in the woods, you could see his car.”
The man died shortly afterward at the scene.
Judy Slight was found mostly unhurt in the ruins of her shop, Shaw’s Garden Florist and Tea Room.
“I heard the storm coming,” said Slight, whose shop was one of more than 100 homes and businesses destroyed in Clark County. “I looked up and saw the glass windows coming at me. I ducked under the counter. That was the last thing I saw, the glass. Then a few minutes later I heard voices asking me if I was all right. I said, ‘I’m fine.”’
The tornadoes that struck Arkadelphia, a town of some 10,000 people, were part of the wider storm system that spawned dozens of twisters and heavy rains.
President Clinton declared nine counties major disaster areas. He said he would travel to his native state Tuesday.
As rescue workers in Arkansas picked through piles of wreckage looking for survivors, torrential rains created fast-rising floods that caught drivers and pedestrians unawares.
Nine people were killed in Kentucky, three in Tennessee, two in Ohio, and one in Mississippi.
In Little Rock the tornadoes destroyed mobile homes, ripped the roofs off houses and sent trees and power lines crashing. Three died in a suburb called College Station.
In Louisville, Ky., where a record 9.6 inches of rain fell, the threat was flooding. A 13-year-old boy drowned when he was swept into a culvert by rushing water just east of Louisville.
In the Louisville suburb of Fairdale, rescue workers rescued a bedridden woman from her basement. The woman, attached to an IV, was floating on her mattress.
In Adams County, Ohio, a 16-year-old boy and a 40-year-old woman drowned in Great Brushy Creek, a tributary of the Ohio River.
The rains caused the Ohio River to rise 19 feet in 24 hours to a flood stage of 52 feet in Cincinnati on Sunday. The Weather Service said the river could crest at 57 feet or more on Tuesday.
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