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By Phil Helsel
deadly storm system swept across Missouri on Wednesday, killing at least three people in the southwestern part of the state and causing extensive damage and injuring multiple people in the capital city.
A tornado struck Jefferson City, a city of about 43,000 people in the center of the state, shortly before midnight.
No fatalities had been reported, but there were calls of multiple people injured and some reports that people were trapped, Jefferson City Police Lt. David Williams said at a news conference early Thursday.
“At this time, we are still trying to determine exactly how much damage we have,” he said. “We are still working very hard to identify any injured people and any places that we need to put more additional personnel.”
The National Weather Service issued a tornado emergency for the Jefferson City area at 11:43 p.m., and the tornado hit shortly after that, said Jim Sieveking, science and operations officer for the weather service’s St. Louis office.
The weather service had issued a tornado warning for the Jefferson City area at 11:08 p.m. The first warning sirens went off in the city minutes later, Williams said.
The warning was upgraded to a tornado emergency at 11:43 p.m., Sieveking said. The weather service tweeted “Violent tornado confirmed — shelter now!”
“It was a tornado, we saw the debris on the radar,” Sieveking said.
Mayor Carrie Tergin said that some areas in and around the city suffered severe damage and that officials were assessing the situation. “The best word to describe the damage is ‘devastating,'” she said in a phone interview.
The Missouri Department of Public Safety tweeted that extensive damage had been reported along Ellis Boulevard near Highway 54, including downed power lines. It said that first-responders were going door-to-door.
While there were no initial reports that homes or other buildings had collapsed, trees were down and roofs and other property had been damaged in the city, said Williams, the police spokesman.
“Materials are all over the roadway” he said. “… there are power lines down all over this affected area.”
Tornado damage in 500-600 blocks of E. Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri on May 22, 2019.stechshultsy
People were urged to stay away from the area, and emergency personnel from across the region were assisting with the storm response, Willaims said.
All firefighters were called in to assist, the Jefferson City Fire Department said on Facebook. “Please Pray for our Citizens,” the department wrote.
City officials requested the assistance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, NBC affiliate KOMU of Columbia reported. It reported that Missouri Task Force 1 had joined search-and-rescue efforts.
“Honestly, I just pray that no one was injured,” one woman told KOMU, adding that people lost their homes. “It’s devastating,” she told the station. “You lose everything you have.”
Earlier Wednesday night, the three deaths were confirmed after a suspected tornado in Golden City in Barton County, Department of Public Safety spokesperson Mike O’Connell said. Golden City is of the state around 40 miles northeast of Joplin.
Several injuries were also reported in Carl Junction, about 10 miles north of Joplin, he said.
The damage there came after a large and destructive tornado was spotted north of Joplin, which eight years ago on Wednesday was devastated by a tornado that killed 158 people.
Doug Cramer, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Springfield, said that while that tornado was close to the city, “we do not believe there is any tornado damage in Joplin.”
Cramer said that it was unclear if the suspected tornado in Barton County was the same one spotted north of Joplin, but “we do know it was associated with same storm.”
“Whether or not the tornado was on the ground the whole time we won’t know until we do a damage survey tomorrow,” Cramer said.
The Plains and Midwest have been battered by severe weather this week, and flooding in Oklahoma has been a major concern.
The town of Webbers Falls, population around 600, was asked to evacuate the entire community Tuesday over fears that the Arkansas River could flood, and on Wednesday the town sent an urgent message for residents to leave after barges broke loose and threatened to hit a dam.
“Historic and life-threatening flooding is now occurring on the Arkansas River,” an alert on behalf of Muskogee County emergency management Wednesday night read. “Significant flooding in the town of Webbers Falls is imminent.”
Muskogee County EMS spokeswoman Trishia German said that two barges broke loose on the Arkansas River from Muskogee, which is north of Webbers Falls, around 10:20 p.m. They were said to be 30 feet long and 15 feet wide and roped together.
German said that officials were trying to assess the situation from the air to determine whether the vessels floated into a field and got stuck, or where they were at before they reach a dam. If the barges reach the dam they could increase the water flow or block gates or potentially break the dam, she said.
The tornadoes in Missouri occurred after parts of the Plains were battered by severe weather that included tornadoes and flooding. The storms this week and their aftermath in had previously been blamed in at least two deaths.
A woman in Payne County, Oklahoma, died on Tuesday after she apparently drove around a high-water sign and through water, and her vehicle was swept off the road and became submerged in around 10 feet of water, the state highway patrol said in an incident report.
In Iowa early Wednesday, one person was killed and another was injured after a tornado touched down in the Adair area, which is west of Des Moines, NBC affiliate WHO-TV of Des Moines reported.
The National Weather Service in Des Moines tweeted Wednesday that a preliminary survey indicated an EF-2 tornado with winds of around 120 to 130 mph occurred in the Adair area around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.
In addition to the possibility of tornadoes in Missouri, Cramer said that there is also a risk of flash flooding in some parts of the state, especially east of Springfield where the ground is already saturated.
This photo released by Missouri State Highway Patrol shows the storm damage from a suspected tornado in Wright County at the Town and Country Supermarket in Hartville, MO on May 21, 2019.Missouri State Highway Patrol via AP
The weather service says that severe thunderstorms, with the possibility of strong tornadoes and very large hail, was expected to continue across central parts of the U.S. through early Thursday. It said strong thunderstorms and flash flooding were likely in the Central Plains and middle Mississippi Valley on Wednesday night.