Rare January tornadoes wreak havoc


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A line of thunderstorms fed by warm weather continued spinning off unusual January tornadoes Tuesday, killing a man in Arkansas and carrying a cow close to a mile.

At least three people died and hundreds evacuated because of flooding in Indiana, where more than 5 inches of rain in some areas pushed rivers and streams over their banks. Two of the victims were young children trapped in a submerged car.

A tornado that hit Appleton, Ark., rolled a doublewide mobile home off its cinder block supports, killing a man and injuring his wife. The trailer appeared to have rolled for 50 yards before smashing against a stand of trees.

“The tornado hit and just it looked like his house pretty much exploded. It was taken completely off the blocks and just tore to pieces. They were both in the wreckage,” said Pope County Sheriff Jay Winters.

The twister hit about 8:40 a.m., damaging or destroying homes, chicken houses and other farm outbuildings. Damage wasn’t widespread because there are few homes in the rural area, about 60 miles northwest of Little Rock in the Ozark foothills.

Kirk Killins, his girlfriend and father were heading toward his parents’ house and their storm cellar when his truck was stalled against the tornado’s winds.

“I had it floored and it wasn’t doing nothing. I looked to my right and the hay barn and shop just disappeared,” Killins said.

“I don’t know how we kept from getting killed,” he said. “When the truck started spinning and I saw tin flying by, I thought this was it.”

Killins said the tornado picked up one of his family’s cows. It survived, even though the storm “probably carried her about three-quarters of a mile,” he said.

Several tornadoes were confirmed or reported Monday in Missouri, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Illinois, Oklahoma and Missouri, where two people were killed.

In northern Indiana, a sport utility vehicle carrying a woman and her five young children stalled on a flooded road in a rural area near Rochester before floating into deeper water, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department said. Shay Leininger, 5, and Ashley Pruitt, 2, died.

Mentone Fire Chief Mike Yazel said the SUV’s roof rack was the only thing visible when the first officer arrived, but that the driver, Megihann K. Leininger, was able to get to the surface and put three of her children on the roof: Mariah Leininger, 4, Michael McDaniel, 1, and Canari Trigg, 3 months.

It took several minutes and a front-end loader for crews to rescue the four, but there was nothing they could do for Shay and Ashley, who were trapped underwater.

“The water was too deep, too cold, too fast,” Yazel said. Their 29-year-old mother “had to sit there on the roof, knowing that would be the worst part of the story,” he said.


Click here to comment on this story »