Ark. fire chief dies while responding to severe storms
Chief Doug Decker died after being struck by a vehicle while checking water levels on a highway
CANTON, Texas — At least 14 people have been killed by tornadoes or flooding in the South and Midwest by a storm that also dumped a rare late-season blizzard in western Kansas on Sunday.
Tornadoes hit several small towns in East Texas, killing four people. Five people were killed by flooding and winds in Arkansas, including a fire chief who was struck by a vehicle while working during the storm. Two deaths were reported in Missouri, including a woman who drowned after rushing water swept away a car. One of two deaths in Mississippi included a 7-year-old who died by electric shock and a 2-year-old girl died in Tennessee after being struck by a soccer goal post thrown by heavy winds.
Flooding closed part of Interstate 44 near Hazelgreen, Missouri, and officials expected it would be at least a day before the highway reopened. Interstate 70 in western Kansas was closed because crews were waiting for snow falling at 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) an hour being blown by 35 mph winds to subside.
In Arkansas, Cove Creek/Pearson Fire Chief Doug Decker died shortly before 4 a.m. Sunday after being struck by a vehicle while checking water levels on Highway 25 near Quitman, about 40 miles north of Little Rock, Trooper Liz Chapman said. The volunteer chief's death will be included as a storm-related death.
A 2-year-old girl in Tennessee died after being struck by a heavy, metal soccer goal post that was blown over by high winds, The Metro Nashville Police Department posted on its Twitter page on Sunday evening.
Melanie Espinoza Rodriguez was transported to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead, according to a second post from the department.
Middle Tennessee was hit by a strong line of storms that knocked down trees and power lines earlier Sunday.
Rescuers in northwest Arkansas continued Sunday to look for an 18-month-old girl and a 4-year-old boy who were in a vehicle swept off a bridge by floodwaters in Hindsville, the Madison County Sheriff's Office said.
In northwest Arkansas, a 10-year-old girl drowned in Springdale and the body of a woman who disappeared riding an inner tube Saturday was found in a creek in Eureka Springs. Also, a 65-year-old woman in DeWitt in the eastern part of the state was struck and killed in her home by a falling tree, officials said.
In Texas, search teams were going door to door Sunday after the tornadoes the day before flattened homes, uprooted trees and flipped several pickup trucks at a Dodge dealership in Canton.
"It is heartbreaking and upsetting to say the least," Canton Mayor Lou Ann Everett told reporters at a news conference Sunday morning.
The storms cut a path of destruction 35 miles long and 15 miles wide in Van Zandt County, Everett said. The largely rural area is about 50 miles east of Dallas.
The National Weather Service found evidence of four tornadoes with one twister possibly on the ground for 50 miles.
The first reports of tornadoes came about 4:45 p.m. Saturday, but emergency crews were hampered by continuing severe weather, said Judge Don Kirkpatrick, the chief executive for Van Zandt County.
"We'd be out there working and get a report of another tornado on the ground," he said.
The storms rolled through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Sunday with strong winds causing isolated pockets of damage. In Durant in central Mississippi one person died in the storms. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency didn't give details. Later Sunday the agency reported the death of a child from Rankin County, 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of Jackson, who died from electric shock in flood waters. The Rankin County Sherriff's Department reported that a 7-year-old boy had unplugged an electric golf cart and dropped the cord in water on the ground and was shocked.
Alexa Haik went to bed Saturday night expecting just rain, but heard the sirens Sunday morning and turned on the television to see the tornado warning. She rounded up her pets and hid in a hallway with her family, then was stunned to emerge to trees down all in her neighborhood in Clinton, Mississippi, about 20 miles west of Jackson.
A trip up the road showed how isolated the worst of the storms were. "I really thought when we got out of our neighborhood, there would be damage everywhere. But our little subdivision was the only one hit," Haik said.
Near Clever in southwestern Missouri, a man tried to save his 72-year-old wife from floodwaters that swept away their vehicle Saturday, but her body was found when the water receded, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.
A second death from weekend flooding was announced Sunday by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens but he did not release any details about the victim or the circumstances of the death.