Storms leave 7 dead in Ark., all but wipe out town

Update:

VILONIA, Ark. (AP) — Authorities have confirmed two more deaths in Arkansas after a severe storm dumped heavy rain and spawned likely tornadoes, raising the statewide toll to seven.

Faulkner County spokesman Stephan Hawks said early Tuesday that two more victims have been discovered in the small town of Vilonia, which authorities and residents believe was struck by a tornado Monday night.

The latest grim discovery brings the death toll to four in the town of 3,800, some 25 miles north of Little Rock. Three other people were killed when floodwaters swept their vehicles off roadways in the northwest corner of the state according to officials in Washington and Madison counties.

The deaths from Monday’s storms bring this month’s storm-related death toll in Arkansas to 14.

Earlier version:

VILONIA, Ark. (AP) — Even as darkness cloaked Vilonia, people in the central Arkansas community could glimpse hints of the damage from violent storms that left at least five people dead across the state.

A tractor-trailer rested on its side. Loose power lines dangled across the road. A crumbled trampoline dotted another street after winds spit it out 350 yards from home.

What exactly would be left Vilonia would be known only after daylight Tuesday. The National Weather Service said it was extremely likely a tornado hit the town of about 3,800 people some 25 miles north of Little Rock when the storms came through Monday night.

“The town’s gone,” Vilonia resident Sheldon Brock said outside a gas station a few miles outside of town.

William Breckon said he could see only bits and pieces of the destruction after police drove him to a shelter from the grocery store where he waited out the storms in a meat locker.

“All I saw was what the headlights illuminated,” he said.

But Breckon said he hadn’t seen his home, or his daughter’s, which he said had been badly damaged. Neighbors had to break into Breckon’s daughter’s house to rescue her and her two children, who escaped injury as the storms damaged their home, he said.

Two people died in Vilonia as the storm carved out a swath of damage three miles wide, officials said. Three others were killed when floodwaters swept their vehicles off roadways in the northwest corner of the state, according to officials in Washington and Madison counties.

The deaths from Monday’s storms bring this month’s storm-related death toll in Arkansas to 12. And forecasters said another bout of bad weather was expected to hammer the state again Tuesday afternoon.

Vilonia’s fire chief, Keith Hillman, said late Monday that some 50 to 60 people weren’t accounted for. He said he believed many simply weren’t reachable and that he didn’t expect the death toll to rise significantly.

In the meantime, authorities closed roadways and cautioned residents not to venture back with chain saws to help clear debris.

John Robinson, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Little Rock, said it’s also likely tornadoes hit the Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, Ark., as well as in Garland and Polk counties.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if it were 10 or 12 tornadoes,” Robinson said.

Flooding also took its toll on the state.

In northwestern Arkansas’ Madison County, emergency management coordinator Lori McConnell said a man and a woman died after floodwaters swept their car off the road. In neighboring Washington County, sheriff’s spokesman Kelly Cantrell said a woman died when her vehicle was swept off Arkansas 265 in the southern part of the county. The woman’s 11-year-old son survived.

Cantrell said the sheriff’s office had performed more than 10 water rescues during the day — from homes and vehicles.

“It rained so hard and the water rose pretty quickly, it caught a lot of people off guard,” Cantrell said. “When we were driving down of one of the state highways after the water had receded, sections of it were buckled up and the road was missing.”

Gov. Mike Beebe declared a state of emergency, retroactive to April 19, when another series of violent storms moved through Arkansas. Beebe plans to tour affected areas Tuesday.

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