Tornado Season Off to Roaring Start

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP)—Swarms of tornadoes killed at least 10 people across the Midwest, shut down the University of Kansas and damaged so much of Springfield on Monday that the mayor said "every square inch'' of town suffered some effects.

The violent weather started during the weekend with a line of storms that spawned tornadoes and downpours from the southern Plains to the Ohio Valley.

On Monday, a second line of storms raked the region, with rain, hail and fierce wind tearing up trees and homes from Kansas through Indiana, and blizzards to the north cutting off power to thousands and shutting down schools in South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

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Tornado Country

Illinois' capital was hit hard twice in 24 hours, first by a tornado and then strong wind early Monday that blew debris through the city. Power lines were down across Springfield, trees uprooted and windows blown out.

Mayor Tim Davlin said he expected "every square inch of Springfield'' will have suffered some effect from the storms.

"It's just unreal,'' Davlin told The (Springfield) State Journal Register early Monday from the city's Emergency Operations Center.

Most major roads into the city were closed, and one man was reported missing after his home was destroyed. The roof was torn off a Wal-Mart store, and police were searching damaged homes and businesses Monday for people who could be trapped, said city spokesman Ernie Slottag. At least 19 people were treated for minor injuries.

Most of Springfield was without power, and thousands of homes outside the city were blacked out elsewhere in Illinois.

The tornado that struck Springfield on Sunday had made a two-hour pass through central Illinois.

The Scott County, Ill., sheriff's department confirmed that a tornado touched down in Manchester, a town of about 300 people, although there were no immediate reports of injuries.

"It's a mess over there,'' Scott County sheriff's department dispatcher Rosann Lindsey said of Manchester. "A lot of buildings are down over there.''

The Chicago area also was struck by high wind, with gusts to 70 mph in suburban Tinley Park, and roofs were blown off apartment buildings in suburban Bridgeview. Localized flooding was reported in the Chicago and Quad Cities areas.

Missouri was hardest hit by the weekend storms, with at least nine people killed and hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed or damaged. Hail as big as softballs pounded parts of the state.

Bobby Ritcheson, 23, said he watched as a neighbor was killed south of Sedalia, Mo.

"The trailer came down right on top of her,'' Ritcheson said.

Homes were destroyed along a path of more than 20 miles south of St. Louis, officials said.

The vast weather system arose as moist air from the Gulf of Mexico collided with cold Canadian air, said Philip Schumacher of the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, S.D. The system dumped 20 inches of snow in parts of western South Dakota and knocked out power and closed schools as it moved into Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"It is a sign that spring is coming,'' said Schumacher. "You start getting stronger low-pressure systems, and they're able to bring in stronger south winds, which tend to bring up more moisture.''

At the University of Kansas, where 60 percent of the buildings were damaged by weekend storms, Provost David Shulenberger said classes were canceled Monday because of safety concerns about debris falling from roofs. The Lawrence campus was littered with trees, roof tiles and window glass.

Two trees fell through Rhonda Burns' mobile home in Lawrence early Sunday.

"If the wind had shifted that tree just a few inches, I wouldn't be talking to you,'' she said.

Tornadoes also destroyed dozens of homes Sunday in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

"It was over before you knew it,'' said Greg Kospar, 41, of Bentonville, Ark. "The house is gone.''

Missouri authorities reported nine people killed, including four whose bodies were found in the rubble of homes near the town of Renick.

Another storm victim was found in Indiana, where several people had to be rescued from cars stalled in rapidly rising water. Flood warnings were posted Monday for large areas of southern and central Indiana.