Two people died and dozens were injured when tornadoes flattened a mobile home park in Wisconsin and a housing subdivision in Oklahoma during powerful spring storms that battered an area from the South Plains of Texas to the Great Lakes.
The storms hit late in the afternoon Tuesday and into the evening, leveling the Prairie Lake Estate Mobile Park near Chetek, Wisconsin, about 110 miles northeast of Minneapolis. When first responders arrived at the scene, they could hear the people crying for help in the rubble, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald told KMSP-TV.
One person died at the mobile home park, the Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center said in a statement late Tuesday. No details of the fatality were given. More than 25 people were injured, the state said, without giving their conditions. Helicopter video from WCCO-TV and KARE-TV shows extensive damage at the trailer park, with several homes reduced to rubble.
"It's a mess," Fitzgerald told the Leader-Telegram of Eau Claire. "We have at least one deceased so far and we're still in a search pattern."
A mobile home is a particularly dangerous place to be during a tornado, according to the National Weather Service. The high winds during a tornado can rip a mobile home, which frequently would not have a foundation, from its moorings. In 2011, when devastating tornadoes struck in Joplin, Missouri, and in Alabama and Mississippi, 111 of the 551 people killed nationwide in tornadoes, or 20 percent, were in mobile homes, according to the Storm Prediction Center website.
In Oklahoma, another tornado damaged much of a subdivision on the southern fringe of Elk City, Oklahoma, about 110 miles west of Oklahoma City. Fire Chaplain Danny Ringer told reporters at the scene late Tuesday that one person was known dead from the twister, although details were lacking. He also said the storm destroyed 40 homes and damaged 50 to 75 others severely. It was not immediately known if there were injuries.
More than two dozen tornado sightings were reported to the National Weather Service Tuesday night across the five states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The storm also brought numerous reports of large hail and strong winds.
Devin Feuerhelm told KMSP-TV that his sister, Lenna Samuelson, lives in the Wisconsin trailer park with her two daughters, Ashley and Brenna. He said his sister also had a 2-month-old grandson, Nolan, in the home when the storm hit, and they had nowhere to go but the bathtub.
Amazingly, the infant grandson escaped with just a couple of scratches, he said. Samuelson's daughters suffered minor injuries, and the mother suffered a gash on her head, but he said all are expected to be fine.
While their home was flattened, the SUV next to it was untouched.
Storm chances increase in the Dallas-Fort Worth area early Wednesday, with damaging wind gusts possible along a squall line that moved into the western counties of North Texas after midnight. The storms weakened as they reached DFW, though.