Hurricane survivors describe flying debris and destroyed buildings

WYNNE, Ark. (AP) – Tornadoes hit the Midwest and South This weekend, some survivors said they saw buildings from their homes collapsed, vehicles tossed around like toys, glass broken and trees uprooted.

88-year-old J.W. Spencer had never experienced a tornado before, but when he and his wife saw on TV that a tornado was approaching their town of Vine, Arkansas, he opened the front window and back door of their home to relieve the wind pressure. The couple entered the bathroom, where they stepped into the bathtub and covered themselves with quilts and blankets for protection.

Fifteen minutes later, the storm unleashed its fury on the town nestled between the flat fields and rich farmland of eastern Arkansas. Debris whistled into their house.

“We rode it out,” Spencer said Saturday. “We heard stuff falling, a loud thud. And then it went away. It went quiet.”

After it passed, the couple saw devastation in the neighborhood.

“As far as the physical part, we’re getting through it,” Spencer said.

Several large trees fell in the community of 8,000 residents who take pride in their schools, churches, their mom-and-pop restaurants and other businesses. A number of single-family homes, especially near the high school, were damaged, with roofs ripped off and windows blown out.

Near a theater in Belvidere, Illinois, where a tornado killed one person and injured 40 concertgoers, Rose Potter picked up shards of glass in front of her building on Friday. Last time this city was destroyed A hurricane was in 1967.

Ambulances rolled in after the theater was hit.

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“They took, I can’t remember how many,” Potter said. He was lucky – only a few windows in his building were broken, mostly on the second floor. Across the street, most of the brick siding on a storefront was ripped out.

In Vine, northeast Arkansas, Alan Purser stopped in his pickup truck to chat with Spencer. Purser described how she rode out the hurricane with the cats in her home, which is being remodeled. He took a risk, staying in the glass-enclosed sunroom, but it was one of the few rooms that hadn’t been remodeled.

“I laid down with my cats, put a blanket over me and let it rattle,” he said of the tornado that overturned a camper van parked outside.

From his front porch in Covington, Tennessee, Billy Mead Jr. said he watched the tornado pass before hail and skies darkened.

“You can see the spiral,” Mead said. “The rain was like a sheet. You couldn’t even see past the rain, it was so dark. But you can see the vortex passing by.

A mile (1.6 kilometers) away, a tornado struck the elementary school where Meade’s twin sons attend and an adjacent middle school. On Saturday morning, a gymnasium’s bleachers were visible through a crumbling brick wall. A large part of the roof collapsed.

“The neighborhood I’m in is great — it’s like nothing happened,” Mead said. “But once you get to the corner, it’s like a disaster. There are power lines down everywhere … all kinds of stuff everywhere.

And Little Rock, Arkansas was hit by a tornadoWorkers at Tropical Smoothie Cafe shouted together in the bathroom.

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“It was really loud because the glass started breaking,” said Irulan Abrams, an employee standing outside the building near a door with broken windows. A siren wailed in the distance. He said one person was injured.

“Now we have nowhere to work,” Abrams said.

When the tornado hit, Little Rock’s Fire Station No. 9 had nine firefighters in what turned out to be one of the city’s most devastated areas. They took shelter at the head office as the cyclone damaged their building.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t scary,” captain Ben Hammond said Saturday.

After the tornado passed, firefighters worked to help injured residents and remove debris blocking their equipment.

“Once you’ve addressed all the people you can see, you have to start looking for the people you can’t,” he said.

The fire station served as a shelter for neighbors in fear of another storm.

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Associated Press reporters Harm Venhuizen in Belvidere, Illinois, and Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Arkansas contributed to this story. Selsky reported from Salem, Oregon.

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