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Arizonans clean up after 'tornado outbreak'

Five tornadoes strike a small community west of Flagstaff, leaving 30 homes uninhabitable and semi-trucks tossed across a highway. Damages are still being assessed.

October 08, 2010|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times

Residents of a small community near Flagstaff, Ariz., began clearing debris Thursday from a series of tornadoes that derailed a train, tore roofs off houses, shattered windows and left semi-trucks strewn across a highway.

"This will likely rank as one of the greatest tornado outbreaks in Arizona," said Brian Klimowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Flagstaff. "This was a very significant event."

Though tornadoes are not unusual in northern Arizona — about two to five are reported each year — they are not usually as strong as the ones that struck Wednesday, Klimowski said.

More than 200 homes in Bellemont, 15 miles west of Flagstaff, were damaged in the storm, which affected a 36-mile-long stretch of land. About 30 homes are uninhabitable, said Brenda Grey, a public information officer with Coconino County.

"It is a fairly flat area," Grey said. "Good for building homes, bad for tornadoes."

Early estimates indicate that five tornadoes passed through northern Arizona as early as 5:15 a.m. Wednesday. The strongest tornado hit first, Klimowski said, and the last tornado struck about 12:20 p.m.

The tornadoes brought as much as 2 inches of rain and hail about 2 inches in diameter. Winds reached up to 110 mph.

There were six minor injuries reported but no deaths, Grey said. Officials were still assessing damages Thursday.

Scott Kinnan, 44, said there is a small mountain behind the community's main subdivision where one of the tornadoes left evidence of its direct path.

"It's like a bulldozer went up the mountain," he said.

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