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Cleanup begins after weekend tornadoes kill 22 across U.S. South, Midwest

Emergency management officials and cleanup crews fanned out across the U.S. South and Midwest Monday after tornadoes left a trail of destruction across four states, the latest in a series of weather disasters to hit the region.

Emergency management officials and cleanup crews fanned out across the U.S. South and Midwest Monday after tornadoes left a trail of destruction across four states, the latest in a series of weather disasters to hit the region.

At least 22 people were killed and dozens injured as twisters struck first in Oklahoma and made their away across Missouri and Arkansas to Georgia.

The latest tornadoes hit several towns particularly hard, among them the former mining community of Picher, Okla., already a U.S. government-declared environmental disaster area because of toxic tailings from lead and zinc mines.

Picher resident Sue Sigle told reporters she was already planning to move away from the town when the tornadoes hit Saturday.

Staring at the wreckage of her wooden house, Sigler said she'd already applied for the government to purchase her home in the pollution-ravaged community when the storm hit.

"I'm OK with everything," she said. "The Lord is going to take care of everything. I guess I'll just have to move [away] sooner."

In Georgia, the entire town of Kite was said to be destroyed, said Caroline Pope, a spokeswoman for the Johnson County Sheriff's Department.

Close to 1,000 people live in the community, she said.

"From what they're telling me, it's gone," she said from the dispatch centre in the jail, which was operating on a generator because the power was out.

President George W. Bush has talked with governors to express his condolences for the lives lost and to discuss the state's needs for recovery, according to the White House.

"The federal government will be moving hard to help," Bush said.

A declaration of emergency by the federal government would free up special funding for storm-hit areas and allow the deployment of more emergency and rescue officials.

Hard-hit region

States have already issued emergency declarations.

It's the worst bout of severe weather so far this year in the region, which has been hard-hit by tornadoes and storms this year.

In storm-weary Arkansas, a tornado caused significant damage in Stuttgart, but no one was seriously injured, said Weather Service meteorologist Joe Goudsward.

Tornadoes killed 13 people in Arkansas on Feb. 5, and another seven were killed in an outbreak May 2. In between was freezing weather, persistent rain and river flooding that damaged homes and has slowed farmers in their planting.

Gov. Mike Beebe planned to tour storm damage in Stuttgart on Monday.

"In this seemingly endless season of severe weather, another Arkansas community now faces the challenge of rebuilding, and others are again picking up after damaging storms," Beebe said in a statement Sunday. "It appears everyone in Arkansas survived this latest outbreak, and for that we are grateful. Our thoughts and prayers go out to our sister states that saw a much steeper toll of human life from Saturday's tornadoes."