Storms rake Southeast, Plains
Area escapes early round of tornadoes; schools cancel activities
From Staff, AP Reports
Storms that raked the Plains and the Southeast tossed up a mobile home in Missouri early Thursday, killing both people inside, and spawned a tornado in Pensacola, Fla. It sent mall shoppers and children at a day-care center running for cover.
In Tulsa, Okla., five people remained hospitalized Thursday after high winds blew through an Oktoberfest festival Wednesday night, collapsing two tents on the crowd.
Decatur escaped severe weather most of Thursday, but meteorologists anticipated a powerful storm system would reach the area about midnight. The system was over the Memphis area at 8 p.m.
Meteorologist Steve Shum-way of the National Weather Service in Huntsville said he expected a tornado watch expiring at 11 p.m. to be extended.
"There could be some wind damage, isolated tornadoes, hail and heavy rain. It's a pretty strong system," he said.
The weather service issued a tornado warning in Lawrence County earlier Thursday, but nothing came of the atmospheric rotation picked up on radar, Shumway said.
"The radar indicated rotation, but it never touched the ground," Shumway said.
Decatur City Schools canceled all after-school activities Thursday, and Hartselle High School called off its football game against the J.O. Johnson Jaguars, rescheduling for 4 p.m. Friday.
Shumway said another storm system is expected to hit the area early next week.
In rural northeastern Missouri, the state Highway Patrol said Kent Ensor and Kristy Secrease had sought refuge in Secrease's mobile home in Monroe County as a tornado approached.
Their bodies were found about 400 feet from where the home had been.
The mobile home's frame was found three-quarters of a mile away, with debris as far as two miles away.
The National Weather Service classified the storm as an F-2 tornado that traveled one mile and had wind speeds up to 135 mph.
Ensor, 44, was a hog farmer from a well-known family, and Secrease, 25, managed Ensor's 11,000-hog operation. They had been dating for about a year, neighbors said.
"Everybody knows everybody here," said Jim Lovelady. "This hurts."
Joey Crigler's mobile home down the road from the Ensor farm was spared damage. Despite living in a wide-open area prone to severe weather, Crigler said, he and Ensor didn't worry about their safety.
"It's just one of those things you kind of laughed about and then go on," he said.
Several twisters hit Southwestern Missouri, where a home was destroyed but no injuries were reported.
A tornado late Thursday morning in Pensacola damaged the city's major shopping mall as violent thunderstorms swept across the western Panhandle.
Eddie English Jr., a department store stock manager, said he heard the wind outside the store suddenly speed up and get louder. Then mall security guards entered the store and ordered 200 to 300 employees and shoppers into the basement.
Lindsey Lassiter, manager of the mall's Express for Men store, said water poured in from her shop's damaged ceiling.
In downtown Pensacola, electricity was out and streets were filled with several inches of water from rain that began around dawn.
Escambia County sheriff's spokesman Glenn Austin said the Greater Little Rock Baptist Church's roof was damaged, as was its day-care center. But the children there had been moved to safety before the tornado struck, he said.
"They heard the warnings, grabbed the kids and followed the drill," he said.
Jack Cullen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, confirmed that a tornado touched down shortly before noon.
More than 7,000 people were at the Oktoberfest festival in Tulsa when the tents collapsed at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Of the five still hospitalized Thursday, three were in serious condition with head injuries, concussions and lacerations, said Tina Wells, spokeswoman for the Emergency Medical Services Authority.
The storm brought wind gusts ranging from 65 mph to nearly 90 mph, said Steve Piltz, a Weather Service meteorologist. Tulsa County was under a tornado watch and severe thunderstorm warning when the storm hit the tents, he said.
Less than an hour earlier, the skies had been clear, said Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor.
"The wind came up incredibly quick, and I don't think anyone can prepare for those kinds of winds," said Michael Sanders, the promotions chairman for Oktoberfest.
North of Tulsa, five people were injured and 25 mobile homes and travel trailers were damaged when the storm hit a mobile home park between Oologah and the Washington County line, the Oologah-Talala Emergency Medical Services District reported. None of the injuries was believed to be life-threatening, officials said.
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