LAWRENCE, Kansas – A two-week barrage of tornadoes that’s ravaged much of the Midwest left this university town reeling Wednesday after tearing apart dozens of homes and businesses and injuring at least 15 people.
The latest wave of severe weather wreaked havoc Tuesday all the way to Pennsylvania, where Caernarvon Township Police Chief John Scalia said no injuries were reported but confirmed that “we have devastation.”
Tornado watches and warnings were in effect Wednesday in several states from Texas and Arkansas to Pennsylvania. The Fort Worth area in Texas was among areas where conditions appeared primed for the worst.
“Tornado threat continues across the warned area,” the National Weather Service in Fort Worth tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “There have been reports of funnels as well as golf ball size hail. Seek shelter immediately!”
The Weather Service in Fort Worth reported one funnel moving toward the northeast in southern Denton county, just north of the Dallas-Forth Worth area Wednesday afternoon.
Tuesday marked the 12th straight day that at least eight tornadoes were reported to the National Weather Service. Twisters have killed at least 10 people during that time.
In Lawrence, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said three of the injuries from their tornado were serious. However, “we are happy to report that no fatalities have been reported,” the sheriff’s office said on Twitter.
Downed power lines, trees and debris blocked off roads in and around Lawrence, the home to the University of Kansas, about 40 miles west of Kansas City. Billy and Julie Brumley, both 59, picked through the wreckage of their bedroom Wednesday, the roof and two walls ripped away.
Billy Brumley recalled being alone in the home when the storm hit – rushing to the basement, lying face down with a blanket pulled over his body as the storm roared overhead.
“I thought I was going to die,” Brumley said.
Vic and Colleen Strnad had spent several minutes hunkered beneath their basement stairs, hands over their heads, as the twister slammed through their Shank Hill neighborhood.
Colleen Strnad, 68, recalled hearing the winds pick up above them and the sounds of shattering glass. The power was still out Wednesday and their home of 40 years will need substantial repairs, but the couple were thankful it was still standing.
Power lines hung low over their street, and utility trucks were lining up a few miles away. A neighbor lost the second floor of the family’s home. A trampoline was overturned in a nearby tangle of trees.
Vic Strnad, 71, pointed to a mangled 6-foot-tall decorative windmill sitting in a neighbor’s ditch. Before the storm, the windmill was on display in Strnad’s yard.
“You want me to come get my windmill?” Strnad asked the neighbor with a laugh.
“Nah, I think it’ll be OK,” he responded, waving him off with a chuckle before returning his attention to his own mangled home.
The storm spared the immediate Kansas City metro area, but travelers at Kansas City International Airport took shelter in parking garage tunnels as a precaution. Air traffic controllers delayed all flights until just after midnight local time.
“We apologize for the inconvenience,” the airport said in a tweet at 12:20 a.m. Wednesday. “A tornado destroyed homes and businesses miles away & debris rained down onto the airport. Our crews had to clean it up in order to be safe.”
As the system moved into Missouri, the Weather Service urged residents of areas such as Excelsior Estates and Mosby to take shelter from confirmed tornadoes. Damage reports were not immediately available, but about 13,000 customers lost power throughout the state.
The White House issued a state of emergency in 18 Kansas counties Tuesday evening.
The tornado sightings are part of a massive severe weather system mostly positioned in the central United States. Preliminary reports show 28 tornadoes struck mainly Kansas and Missouri on Tuesday, the Storm Prediction Center said. But the East has not been entirely spared.
On Monday, tornadoes reached into Ohio, killing one person, injuring several more and causing severe damage to neighborhoods. Almost 40,000 homes and businesses remained without power Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday, tornado warnings reached as far east as Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York and New Jersey. In northern New Jersey, fierce storms pounded the region with torrential rains, some hail and a tornado that damaged Lenape Valley Regional High School in Stanhope.
The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado hit eastern Pennsylvania, and a team was sent to Morgantown in Berks County to survey the damage and determine its strength. County emergency officials reported structural damage to about 20 properties.
“We are very, very lucky and blessed,” Scalia said. “When you drive around and see the destruction, you realize how lucky we are that nobody was hurt.”
Bacon reported from McLean, Va. Contributing: Kristin Lam, USA TODAY; Jasmine Vaughn-Hall, York Daily Record; William Westhoven, Morristown Daily Record; The Associated Press
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