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3 dead, state capital battered as storms rake Missouri

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    This aerial image shows severe storm damage in Jefferson City, Missouri, on Thursday after a tornado hit overnight. A tornado tore apart buildings in Missouri’s capital city as part of an overnight outbreak of severe weather across the state. AP PHOTO/JEFF ROBERSON

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    A worker walks past tornado-damaged Toyotas at a dealership in Jefferson City, Mo., Thursday, May 23, 2019, after a tornado tore though late Wednesday. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Published May 24. 2019 12:46PM

JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri (AP) — An outbreak of nasty storms spawned tornadoes that razed homes, flattened trees and tossed cars across a dealership lot, injuring about two dozen people in Missouri’s capital city and killing at least three others elsewhere in the state.

The National Weather Service confirmed that a large and destructive twister moved over Jefferson City shortly before midnight Wednesday.

The tornado cut a path about 3 miles long and a mile wide from the south end of Jefferson City north toward the Missouri River, said police Lt. David Williams.

Emergency workers reported about two dozen injuries, Williams said, and around 100 of people went to shelters. Hospitals reported treating injuries such as cuts and bruises.

There were no immediate reports of any deaths or missing people in the capital city of about 40,000, and it appeared everyone was accounted for after door-to-door checks that were nearly complete Thursday evening, police Lt. David Williams said.

Many in Jefferson City considered themselves fortunate to survive.

David Surprenant watched the storm approach then rushed to join his family in the basement. By then, the windows had started shattering and the pressure dropped.

“It was just the eeriest sound ever, and it felt like it was taking your breath right out of you,” Surprenant, 34, said. He and his family were unharmed.

Kevin Riley operates a car dealership next to Surprenant’s home, where he sells Chevys and Toyotas. He figured that 98 percent of the approximately 750 vehicles on the lot were damaged.

Lincoln University President Jerald Woolfolk rode out the tornado in the basement of her official residence, and it may have saved her life. University spokeswoman Misty Young told the Jefferson City News-Tribune that the home, built 103 years ago, was so badly damaged it appeared to be uninhabitable.

Weather forecasters had been tracking the storm before it arrived, and sirens first sounded in Jefferson City at 11:10 p.m. — about 30 minutes before the first property damage. Gov. Mike Parson credited the warning system for saving lives.

The three deaths happened more than 150 miles away near Golden City in Missouri’s southwestern corner.

Kenneth Harris, 86, and his 83-year-old wife, Opal, were found dead about 200 yards from their home, and Betty Berg, 56, was killed and her husband, Mark, seriously injured when their mobile home was destroyed, authorities said.

The National Weather Service said preliminary information indicates the tornado at Jefferson City was an EF-3, which typically carry winds up to 160 mph.

The severe weather moved in from Oklahoma, where rescuers struggled to pull people from high water.

This week has seen several days of twisters and torrential rains in the Southern Plains and Midwest.

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