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Enormous Weather Front Spawns Deadly Tornadoes


Tornado season has arrived and made itself known. Yesterday, an enormous weather front set off a series of tornados in the middle of the country. In northeastern Oklahoma near the border with Kansas and Missouri one person was killed. And in central Arkansas, at least 16 people died as a tornado struck communities near Little Rock.

We spoke a short while ago with Michael Hibblen from member station KUAR.

You live and work in the city of Little Rock. It sounds like some of the worst damage was not far from there.

MICHAEL HIBBLEN, BYLINE: Yeah, the most damage happened just outside of Little Rock. There's a town called Mayflower and then a community a little further to the north, Vilonia, is where we had especially hard hit areas.

GREENE: Have you been able to hear from people who live in these communities?

HIBBLEN: Well, indeed, people who were in these communities when the tornado hit just described it as a chaotic atmosphere. One person was on Interstate 40 when this tornado went over the interstate, and described traffic coming to a stop and a cloud of debris that was hitting vehicles. You had tractor-trailers that were knocked over and just a panic scene. The people, once it did move on, trying to get help.

Later on in Vilonia, one person who was an evening church service said people began getting text alerts about the tornado. And this one person, Bryan(ph) Pruitt, went to the front door of the church, saw the tornado, said it had the familiar sound like a freight train; saw transformers out on power poles flashing. And that's when he said he really became scared. And people huddled inside the church. Thankfully, no one was hurt there inside the church. But unfortunately, as you said, many other fatalities elsewhere.

GREENE: It sounds like, at least for many people, the alert system seemed to get to people in time.

HIBBLEN: If there is any good news - and as it is that there was a whole lot of advance notice. In fact, there had even been reports as early as Friday that we might have severe weather on Sunday. And there were tornado watches and warnings that seemed to be put out well in advance of the tornado coming through. So hopefully, people weren't caught off guard by this.

GREENE: And, Michael, are rescue workers still, you know, going through these communities and looking for people who might be trapped, still need help?

HIBBLEN: Yeah, it's been a long night. And this morning, only now really getting a full assessment of the damage. Rescue workers, yes, were going through damaged homes during the overnight looking for anyone who needed help. And this tornado came through not too long before sunset, so it was dark and afterward. So, it's really only with the daylight that crews have really been able to get out there and really start making an assessment.

GREENE: A long night and surely a long road ahead for many families who are going to be rebuilding.

HIBBLEN: Indeed.

GREENE: All right, we've been speaking to reporter Michael Hibblen from member station KUAR in Little Rock, Arkansas about some deadly weather yesterday. Tornadoes hit in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Michael, thank you very much.

HIBBLEN: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Hibblen

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