BELLEMONT, Ariz. – A rare swarm of tornadoes shoved semis off highways and destroyed homes in the predawn darkness Wednesday, leaving startled residents wondering if they were in Arizona anymore or had woken up in the twister-prone Midwest.
After one tornado rumbled through Bellemont around 5:30 with wind speeds of up to 110 miles per hour, residents armed with flashlights emerged from their homes to check on the damage – a house splintered, windows smashed, garage doors twisted, but no major injuries.
“Running through the house, all the Kansas movies go through your head telling you: ‘Move to the basement,’ ” Breanna Hunt said. “But we don’t have a basement.”
Another tornado struck minutes later east of the small town of a few hundred people nestled in the Ponderosa pines just west of Flagstaff. Weather forecasters confirmed a total of four twisters.
Sparsely populated Arizona typically has four tornadoes a year, but rarely if ever sees twisters come in clusters and cause the kind of damage seen Wednesday, meteorologists said.
“The hammering that northern Arizona is getting right now is exceptional,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Ken Waters in Phoenix. “It’s not uncommon this time of year to have one or two tornado reports or a warning, but this is quite an outbreak.”