JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The tornado warning sirens had quieted and Larry Jett was dozing in his recliner when the piercing alerts began again.
It was too late to scramble to the basement as the massive twister that tore through this city overnight descended on his family home of 40 years. His mother, Bettie, flung herself onto the chair with him as the powerful storm sucked the recliner to the ceiling before dropping them all to the floor.
“It happened so quick you didn’t even know what happened,” Larry Jett, 57, said Thursday as they picked through the debris. “I swear the devil is trying to kill me.”
The tornado touched off a “chaotic situation” that left 20 people injured, scores of buildings damaged and some residents trapped in their homes, police Lt. David Williams told reporters from the damaged Cole County Sheriff’s Office building.
The Midwest has been hammered by scores of tornadoes and heavy storms in recent days, leaving at least seven dead and a trail of damage from the high winds and flooding. And forecasters warned of more severe weather through Friday.
The tornado here struck hours after a twister roared through the rural hamlet of Golden City, 170 to the southwest, killing three people. Amazingly, no fatalities were reported in Jefferson City, the state’s capital and home to more than 40,000 people.
Williams said the twister cut through a three-mile swath of the city, where tornado sirens were first activated shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday. At 11:39 p.m., first responders had received the first report of confirmed property damage to a home. Ultimately, at least 20 people trapped in their homes were rescued, Williams said.
Gov. Mike Parson said he was grateful that many heeded the alerts and warnings.
“We were very fortunate last night that we didn’t have more injuries,” he said. “We are very thankful that we didn’t have more fatalities than we did.”
A storm chaser drove through Jefferson City, Missouri after a violent tornado ripped through the state’s capital.
Mayor Carrie Tergin said a “significant portion” of the city was without power Thursday. Authorities warned residents not to begin cleanup operations until power is restored.
“It sounds as if the injuries have been few, which is truly amazing considering the extent of the damage,” Mayor Carrie Tergin said on CNN. “A lot of devastating damage to buildings, but buildings can be replaced. … We are going to work together to get through this.”
Images posted on social media showed the twister’s destruction, ripping through buildings and knocking down power lines.
Five kids were sleeping at the home of Natile Walker, 38, when the sirens sounded. She rounded them up and hustled them into the basement just as the house started shaking. The next day, a shaken Walker surveyed the damage – her roof gone, debris covering her lawn.
She comment was a recurring theme here: “It happened so fast.”
In the Golden City area of Barton County, Missouri Public Safety confirmed three deaths. Several injuries were reported in the Carl Junction area of Jasper County. Beau James told The Joplin Globe he sought shelter in the basement of his Carl Junction home during the storms.
“I came back upstairs and part of the roof was gone,” he said. “I could see the sky.”
That tornado was part of a severe weather system that swept into the state from Oklahoma, which has been the scene of tornadoes and flash flooding this week. More than 80 tornadoes have slammed the region since Monday, according to meteorologist reports, and potential flooding triggered evacuations from Oklahoma to Missouri on Wednesday.
The central and southern plains are bracing for more severe weather on Thursday.
“Strong/severe storms are possible this afternoon thru tonight, but there are better chances of strong/severe storms Friday afternoon/night,” the National Weather Service warned on Twitter: “The main threats will be large hail & damaging winds. Now is the time to plan!”
The danger of the storm system will continue to weaken Thursday, the Storm Prediction Center said, but severe storms with large hail, damaging winds and tornadoes will potentially persist across the Plains.
Thunderstorms will also pose an “enhanced” risk from part of the Ohio Valley into the Mid-Atlantic. The designation ranks level 3 on the 5-level risk scale for severe storms.
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Four deaths related to a tornado and heavy rain were reported on Monday and Tuesday: one in Iowa, one in Oklahoma and two in Missouri.
While storms continue to batter the central U.S., extreme heat will be the main weather story in the Southeast for the next several days. Record high temperatures, some nearing 100 degrees, are possible in several states from Alabama to Virginia.
Bacon reported from McLean, Va. Contributing:Austin Huguelet, Springfield News-Leader; Kristin Lam and Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
A violent tornado in Jefferson City, Missouri left a trail of destruction at a car dealership.
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