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Vast Storm System Spawns Twisters in South, Killing 6

February 26, 2001|From Associated Press

PONTOTOC, Miss. — A tornado killed five people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes around the city as violent storms swept through the region, authorities said Sunday. Dozens were injured.

The severe weather struck the region late Saturday. The twister cut a 23-mile path across Pontotoc County, the National Weather Service said. In Arkansas, a 2-year-old boy was killed by another tornado.

The vast storm system that swept across the eastern half of the nation also dumped more than 20 inches of snow on northern Minnesota. Blowing snow closed hundreds of miles of highways in Minnesota and South Dakota.

Heavy rain caused flooding in Missouri and Kansas.

In Pontotoc County, Sheriff Leo Mask said his office tallied five deaths.

In Pontotoc, Johnny Seale held his wife close as their home was ripped apart around them. They survived, but his 36-year-old son, a sister and a nephew were killed in houses only yards away.

"I've seen tornadoes before, but I've never had to walk through the destruction like this time," witness Tommy Wiggins said. "Houses were leveled, trees splintered and people walking around in a daze trying to find their belongings."

Victims' relatives packed hospital waiting rooms, shocked at the power unleashed by the tornado.

"My cousins were in a house that got blown away," Bobbye Roye of Amory said by phone from a hospital in nearby Tupelo. "They blew across a holler and landed on the side of another hill. They were all dead."

On the colder side of the storm, about 260 miles of Interstate 90 were closed overnight until Sunday afternoon from Chamberlain, S.D., east to Blue Earth, Minn. Stretches of I-94 in Minnesota and North Dakota and parts of I-35 in southern Minnesota and Iowa also were closed, officials said.

Minnesota's highway department closed all state roads in seven southwestern counties because snowplows couldn't keep up with the drifting snow. "We're just losing ground all around," said Renard Fritz, Minnesota State Patrol dispatcher in Detroit Lakes.

Northeastern Minnesota collected more than 20 inches of snow, including 23.5 inches at Finland.

South Dakota authorities reopened segments of I-90 on Sunday as crews plowed out drifts and removed stalled vehicles.

"We had troopers hauling people from stalled vehicles all through the night, and we had several semis blocking the highway," Highway Patrol Sgt. Curtis Blasy said.

Three traffic deaths were blamed on the storm in Minnesota and Nebraska.

Wisconsin Energy said that wind gusting to 58 mph knocked out power to about 9,000 customers in the southeastern part of the state Sunday. Power was restored to most customers later Sunday.

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