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Arkansas Tornado Warnings Issued, Severe Weather Continues In Several States

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ARKANSAS TORNADO
Ken Sanders, son-in-law of Jay and Carla Arendal, takes a rest while helping to look for items to keep after a tornado destroyed the Arendal's home on Tuesday, April 26, 2011, in Vilonia, Ark. The couple was in the home and both survived. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) | AP

VILONIA, Ark. -- Residents in several states endured a second straight night of violent weather Tuesday, a day after a series of powerful storms in Arkansas killed 10 people in flooding and a tornado that twisted a tractor-trailer like a wrung dish rag.

The National Weather Service issued a high risk warning for severe weather in a stretch extending from northeast of Memphis to just northeast of Dallas and covering a large swath of Arkansas. It last issued such a warning on April 16, when dozens of tornadoes hit North Carolina and killed 21 people.

At least 100 homes in the East Texas town of Edom were damaged Tuesday night, and a woman was injured when her mobile home was destroyed, officials said. There were also minor injuries reported in Louisiana when an oil drilling site turned over in high winds.

In southwestern Michigan, nine people were sent to the hospital, one with serious injuries, when lightning struck a park where children and adults were playing soccer, police said.

Dozens of tornado warnings had been issued in Arkansas Tuesday night. Strong winds peeled part of the roof off of a medical building next to a hospital in West Memphis, near the Tennessee border, but no one was inside.

The latest round of storms began as communities in much of the region struggled with flooding and damage from earlier twisters. In Arkansas, a tornado smashed Vilonia, just north of Little Rock, on Monday night, ripping the roof off the grocery store, flattening homes and tossing vehicles into the air.

An early warning may have saved Lisa Watson's life in that case. She packed up her three children and was speeding away from the Black Oak Ranch subdivision in Vilonia when she looked to her left and saw the twister approach. Two of her neighbors died in their mobile homes, and a visiting couple who took shelter in a metal shipping container where the husband stored tools died when the container was blown at least 150 feet into a creek.

Jimmy Talley said his brother, David, told his mother that he and his wife, Katherine, were leaving the mobile home they'd been staying in because they thought the container would be safe.

"He said `I love you, Mom,' and that's the last that anybody heard from him," Jimmy Talley said.

The tornado also reduced the mobile home the couple had been staying in to a pile of boards and belongings. The other victims were Charles Mitchell, 55, and a 63-year-old man whose name has not yet been released.

Emergency workers kept non-residents out of the subdivision Tuesday. Pictures Watson took when she returned home showed a collection of demolished mobile homes, including what looked like a pile of insulation that she said had been a trailer.

Faulkner County Judge Preston Scroggin said the tornado tore through an area 3 miles wide and 15 miles long, and he thought more people might have died if the residents hadn't been receiving warnings about a possible outbreak of tornadoes since the weekend and the local weather office hadn't issued a warning almost 45 minutes before the twister hit Vilonia.

Pat Fulmer, 54, saw the warning on television and took shelter in a safe room. But as the minutes passed, she thought it might be a false alarm. The area had already received warnings for two other rotating storms that didn't result in touchdowns, she said.

"It was about to the point that we thought they were crying, 'Wolf,'" Fulmer said. Then as the tornado approached about 7:30 p.m., she began receiving calls and text messages telling her it was coming.

Vilonia Mayor James Firestone said cleanup and recover work began immediately.

"We had people lined up with chain saws at city hall ready to go to work," he said. The county's emergency management director said 70 homes were destroyed at Vilonia, with another 51 sustaining major damage.

Jay Arendal, who had moved to the area only weeks before, lost his home but said he planned to rebuild. He had sent his wife and two daughters into a pantry and went into a closet with his two sons just before the house fell apart around them. The only thing left was a concrete foundation and scattered piles of wet belongings.

"I've got the shirt on my back," Arendal said. "We're going to pull the nails out of this lumber and raise this back."

In the Quail Hollow subdivision, many homes appeared Tuesday as though they had never had roofs – there were no shingles or other roofing material on the ground. It was just gone.

Terina Atkins, 37, a middle school librarian, rode out the storm in with her family in their laundry room. Adkins said at one point, she heard a loud sucking noise and realized the air was being sucked out of the drain in a sink.

"We clogged up the sink and we could feel our ears popping," Atkins said.

Rick Satterwhite, 61, and his wife Debbie, 57, clambered into their concrete storm cellar as warnings sounded. After a few minutes, Rick Satterwhite unlatched the door, thinking the storm might have passed. Instead, he saw the tops of trees swirling, and the storm sucked the air out of the shelter.

"It was the ungodliest feeling and sound," Debbie Satterwhite said.

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