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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

5 dead after tornado in Missouri, as storms unsettle country

An early-morning tornado caused extensive damage in Bollinger County, Mo., uprooting trees and destroying homes.

By Judson Jones and Jesús Jiménez

Five people died and others were injured in southeast Missouri earlier this week after at least one tornado and other storms tore through the area, officials said, on a day of tornado watches and blizzard warnings across many regions.

Sheriff Casey Graham of Bollinger County confirmed the deaths in a Facebook post Wednesday and said that search-and-rescue operations were still underway. Graham said that the Grassy and Glenallen communities, about 120 miles south of St. Louis, “were hit with what appears to be a significant tornado early this morning.”

Sgt. Clark Parrott, a public information officer for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, said earlier Wednesday that damage was widespread and that crews were still working to assess the impact at the scene.

“There are just multiple homes damaged, missing roofs, power lines, power poles, trees down across multiple highways, making it difficult for first responders,” he said. “This is still a very active search-and-rescue operation.”

The central and southern regions of the United States have had an onslaught of bad weather recently, including destructive tornadoes and blizzards that hammered multiple states last week and the week before, leaving at least 58 people dead across the country.

In response to the latest storm, Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri said on Twitter that he would join emergency workers on the ground to assess the damage.

Tornadoes are rated on the enhanced F-scale, which runs from EF0 to EF5. The National Weather Service in Paducah, Kentucky, said Wednesday that damage surveyed in Bollinger County, in southeast Missouri, appeared to indicate that an EF2 tornado struck the area with estimated winds of up to 130 mph.

Joshua Wells, 30, who lives in Glenallen in central Bollinger County, said there was extensive damage in the area, including uprooted trees, homes with roof damage and an auto repair shop that had been “twisted.”

“A lot of older structures have been completely leveled,” Wells said.

Having experienced a tornado before, Wells said he was awake before the tornado moved through and had gone next door to his sister’s house to shelter.

“I’m always wary of bad weather,” Wells said. “I had that gut feeling that we should definitely take shelter.”

More than 11 million people from Arkansas to Michigan were under tornado watches throughout Wednesday.

Throughout the day, more than 190 flights had been canceled and over 430 others were delayed out of Chicago O’Hare International Airport, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking company. Dozens more cancellations and delays were also reported at Chicago Midway International Airport and St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

And in the Upper Plains and Rockies, heavy snow was falling and several major roads were closed, as drivers faced poor visibility and other hazards. More than 1 million people were under blizzard warnings. By Wednesday night, portions of South Dakota had recorded up to 30 inches of snow, according to the weather service.

On Tuesday, several fresh tornadoes were reported in Iowa, Missouri and Illinois.

In Colona, Illinois, about 80 miles southeast of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a tornado ripped the roof from a gas station and uprooted trees, according to the weather service. Local police said that two people had been evacuated safely from the station and that no injuries were reported.

In Iowa, the storms rumbled near areas where tornadoes had torn roofs off homes and other buildings days earlier, displacing residents.

One of those residents, Jacob Dilks of Hills, Iowa, said he had been on an “emotional roller coaster” ever since his home was destroyed Friday. On Saturday, his son turned 2. On Tuesday, his wife gave birth to a girl.

“One minute, you’re scared for the lives of your family, and the next you’re happy to be alive,” said Dilks, 28, whose family has been staying with relatives in nearby Coralville.

Destructive, baseball-size hail was also reported Tuesday afternoon in towns in northeast Illinois. The roughly 3-inch hail that fell in the Chicago area was the largest since a July 2020 storm, according to the weather service in Chicago. The Chicago Fire Department said that high winds had downed trees and power lines, and damaged buildings.

In the city, where voters on Tuesday elected Brandon Johnson as mayor, people appeared to heed a call to vote early, before the bad weather, according to Max Bever, a spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Elections. As of noon local time, the number of ballots cast reflected a 23% citywide turnout, compared with 21% at noon in the previous election on Feb. 28.

Aside from a dip in voter turnout in the early afternoon as a thunderstorm rolled through, the elections board was not aware of other storm-related effects on turnout, Bever said Tuesday night. He added that the overall turnout figure for the day was relatively low for an election day.

Scientists are not yet able to determine whether there is a link between climate change and the frequency or strength of tornadoes. Researchers do say that in recent years tornadoes seem to be occurring in greater clusters, and that the region known as tornado alley in the Great Plains, where most tornadoes occur, appears to be shifting eastward.

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