VILONIA, Ark. (AP) — Emergency officials searched for survivors Monday in the debris left by a powerful tornado that killed at least 14 people in Arkansas and carved an 80-mile path of destruction through suburban Little Rock.
The tornado that slammed into Vilonia, just north of the state's capital city, grew to about half a mile wide Sunday and was among a rash of tornadoes and strong storms that rumbled across the Midwest and South. The National Weather Service warned that more tornadoes, damaging winds and very large hail would strike Monday in parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana.
"We don't have a count on injuries or missing. We're trying to get a handle on the missing part," Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said Monday. "Just looking at the damage, this may be one of the strongest we have seen."
An earlier toll of 16 was changed to 14 after it was clear that two victims were counted twice, Arkansas governor's aide Matt DeCample said, though he still expects the overall death toll to rise.
Brandon Morris, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, said crews were sifting through the rubble in the hope of uncovering survivors and to assess the damage.
"Right now, the main focus is life safety," Morris said. "We're trying to make sure everyone is accounted for."
Karla Ault, a Vilonia High School volleyball coach, said she sheltered in the school gymnasium as the storm approached. After it passed, her husband told her their home was reduced to the slab on which it had sat.
"I'm just kind of numb. It's just shock that you lost everything. You don't understand everything you have until you realize that all I've got now is just what I have on," Ault said.
The tornado that hit Vilonia and nearby Mayflower would likely be rated as the nation's strongest to date this year, as it has the potential to be at least an EF3 storm, which has winds greater than 136 mph, National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Hood said.