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Deaths as tornado season hits in US

A tornado system has ripped through the central US and left at least 17 dead in a violent start to this year's storm season.

A tornado touched down on Sunday about 10 miles west of Little Rock, Arkansas, then carved an 80-mile path of destruction as it passed through or near several suburbs north of the state capital, including Vilonia.

It grew to be a half-mile wide and remained on the ground for much of that route, killing 16 people in that state.

The tornado was the largest of several produced by a powerful storm system that rumbled through the central and southern US.

Another twister killed a person in Quapaw, Oklahoma, before crossing into Kansas, destroying 60 to 70 homes and injuring 25 people in the city of Baxter Springs.

Among the ruins in Arkansas was a new 14 million dollar (£8.3 million) intermediate school that was set to open this autumn.

"There's just really nothing there anymore. We're probably going to have to start all over again," Vilonia Schools superintendent Frank Mitchell said.

Emergency workers and volunteers went door-to-door to look for victims. Law enforcement officers checked the damaged and toppled 18-wheelers, cars and trucks on a stretch of Interstate 40.

"It turned pitch black," said Mark Ausbrooks, who was at his parents' home when the storm arrived. "I ran and got pillows to put over our heads and ... all hell broke loose."

"My parents' home, it's gone completely," he said.

Tornadoes also touched down in Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri. Forecasters had warned for days that violent weather would strike over the weekend.

In Arkansas, Pulaski County Sheriff's Lieutenant Carl Minden said three people were killed when a tornado destroyed a home west of Little Rock. He said several other people were injured at the scene.

"I'm standing on the foundation of the house now. It's totally gone," he said.

In Oklahoma, Ottawa County Emergency Management director Joe Dan Morgan said Quapaw, which has about 900 residents, was heavily damaged.

"Looks like about half of town got extensive damage as well as the fire department," he said.

Authorities had earlier said two people were killed in Quapaw.

Six people were treated for tornado-related injuries at Baptist Regional Health Centre, said hospital spokeswoman Kristie Wallace.

The Missouri Highway Patrol reported a tractor-trailer was blown onto its side on Interstate 70. No one was injured.

President Barack Obama sent his deepest condolences to those affected at a joint news conference with Philippine president during a foreign trip.

He said people hit by the disaster should know that "your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild, as long as it takes".

The White House said Mr Obama is sending Craig Fugate, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, to Arkansas "to ensure the appropriate federal resources are being brought to bear to support the state and local efforts".

Mr Obama telephoned Arkansas governor Mike Beebe to get an update on the situation and to see if other federal resources were needed.

The president also praised the heroic efforts of first responders and neighbours.


From Belfast Telegraph