Tornado-ravaged communities look to rebuild after storms level homes and leave 32 dead

Tornado-ravaged communities look to rebuild after storms level homes and leave 32 dead

(CNN) — Tornado-ravaged towns in the American South and Midwest are already facing a long road to recovery after a multi-state storm outbreak leveled homes and left at least 32 people dead — and another round of damaging storms is still on the way.

An onslaught of tornado-spawning storms reduced homes into piles of wood, ripped roofs off buildings, splintered trees, knocked out power, injured dozens of people across several states and prompted governors to announce disaster declarations.

Now, as the focus shifts to clean-up efforts and those who lost their homes try to salvage what they can, some of the same areas walloped by tornadoes Friday — including central Arkansas, eastern Iowa, and northern Illinois — will see a new round of storms Tuesday that threaten to bring more tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds.

In one of the hardest hit areas, Wynne, Arkansas, a lengthy process of cleaning up lies ahead, and it’ll take “resources beyond our means,” Mayor Jennifer Hobbs told CNN.

The small town of 8,300 located about 50 miles west of Memphis, Tennessee, was virtually “cut in half” by a tornado that traversed the city from west to east, destroying homes in its path and leaving at least four people dead, the mayor said. The tornado was rated as a powerful EF-3 by the National Weather Service.

“We have a lot of families that are completely devastated. Have no home at all, no belongings survived,” the mayor added.

Next door, Tennessee reported the highest death toll with 15 weather-related fatalities confirmed over the weekend, including 9 deaths in a single county, McNairy County.

McNairy County Sheriff Guy Buck said the toll could have been much higher if residents had not heeded early warnings and sought out proper shelter.

“Had they not, looking at the devastation that we had, our death toll could have been in the hundreds,” Buck told CNN. “The power of mother nature is something not to be underestimated.”

In Illinois, four people were killed, including one person who died after the roof of the Apollo Theatre in Belvidere collapsed Friday with more than 200 people gathered inside.

Deaths were also reported across Indiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Delaware.

President Joe Biden issued a major disaster declaration for Arkansas ahead of a trip by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to survey the damage and determine needs on the ground.

Criswell on Sunday toured the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, where more than 2,900 structures were impacted when an EF3 tornado that roared through Pulaski and Lonoke counties came through, whipping estimated peak winds of 165 mph, authorities said.

Many residents were displaced from one apartment building in Little Rock that “literally looks like a warzone,” Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said Sunday.

“From the time our first responders rushed to help their friends and neighbors, to now with the help of volunteers, friends and family, we have rallied as a city to recover and begin to rebuild,” the Little Rock mayor tweeted.

‘Everything we worked for and paid for is gone’

In Covington, Tennessee, an EF-3 tornado left a large swath of destruction and made roads impassable.

Teresa Blankenship’s property took a direct hit, with the tornado tearing her home apart and flipping over her brand-new car, CNN affiliate WHBQ reported.

“We’ve lived in this house 44 years. Everything we worked for and paid for is gone,” Blankenship told WHBQ.

Blankenship and her husband saw the tornado headed straight for their home and had just enough time to hop into their underground storm shelter.

“I believe it saved our lives,” Blankenship told the station as she stood near the mangled remains of her home.

More than 200 miles away, an EF-2 tornado also tore through the Readyville, Tennessee, area early Saturday morning, ripping the roof off the US Post Office building and destroying the historic Readyville Mill, as well as numerous homes along one street, Rutherford County Government said in a news release.

“It looked like a bomb went off,” Rutherford County Mayor Joe Carr said in describing the destruction in the release.

In Whiteland, Indiana, residents spent hours Sunday trying to salvage what they could from the wreckage of destroyed homes. They looked for wedding dresses, high school diplomas, keys, wallets and other items.

“We’re trying to go through what we can find, what we can actually pull out of the rooms where the walls have collapsed in,” one resident told CNN affiliate WTHR as he searched through the destroyed relative’s home. “By looking at it, they’re lucky they made it out alive.”

Another Indiana resident described the terrifying moment the storm beat against her home.

“We heard whistles like a train. It was just roaring. Our ears started having a bad pressure; we had to put our hands over our ears. Everybody was running to the basement and we got down there, I heard glass shattering,” one Sullivan resident told WTHR. “When we came back up everything was just gone.”

What to expect into Tuesday

Monday is expected to be the calm before the storm.

There is only a marginal risk of severe thunderstorms across parts of the Central Gulf Coast states, Southern Plains and Mississippi Valley and Midwest Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

But another widespread severe weather outbreak is expected Tuesday afternoon in the Mississippi Valley and into the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, including across areas still reeling from recent severe storms, according to the Weather Service.

“These storms could pose a risk for a few strong tornadoes, large hail and damaging wind gusts,” the National Weather Service warned.

A Level 4 out of 5 “moderate” risk of severe storms has been issued by the Storm Prediction Center across parts of eastern Iowa, northeastern Missouri, and western Illinois for Tuesday.

This risk includes Davenport, Cedar Rapids and Dubuque, all in Iowa — some of the same areas that were hit hard by tornadoes and severe storms Friday.

Farther south, a Level 3 risk has been issued across portions of Arkansas and southern Missouri, including Little Rock.

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