Severe Storms, Tornadoes Kill 3 and Injure Dozens More In the Midwest, Plains

Ada Carr and Pam Wright
Published: May 18, 2017

More storms hit the Midwest Wednesday, killing a trucker in Iowa, a day after tornadoes killed two and injured dozens of others in Wisconsin and Oklahoma.

According to the Associated Press, the Butler County Sheriff's Office says 70-year-old truck driver James Budlong, of Dike, Iowa, was killed Wednesday after high winds associated with one of the thunderstorms that raced across Iowa flipped his tractor on a side, pinning him. During the same storm, a farmer was hurt when a building fell on him. 

Wisconsin was particularly hard hit Wednesday with significant damage reported in Rock, Sauk, Columbia, Walworth and Jefferson counties after the second round of storms battered the central states.

In Bradford, east of Janesville, a barn was destroyed by high winds that also left thousands without power, forcing the closure Thursday of five schools at the Whitewater Unified School District.

In Nebraska, a suspected tornado damaged a farmstead near Pilger, a town that was devasted in 2014 by a tornado that killed two people. 

On Tuesday, confirmed tornadoes struck a mobile home park in Wisconsin and a subdivision in Oklahoma, leaving behind paths of destruction and killing at least two.

There were 26 reports of tornadoes Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service, as a massive severe storm system tore through an area from the South Plains of Texas to the Great Lakes.

(FORECAST: More Severe Weather Could Hit Plains)

A turkey barn was destroyed by a possible tornado that hit near Chetek, Wisconsin, on May 16, 2017.
(Toby Kutrieb/WCCO-TV)

Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald confirmed the death of 46-year-old Eric Gavin and at least 25 other injured after an EF2 tornado left behind severe damage between Chetek and Cameron, Wisconsin, Tuesday, including the Prairie Lakes Estates trailer park, where walls reportedly collapsed on top of people.

"It's a mess," Fitzgerald told the Leader-Telegram of Eau Claire. "It's pretty bad. We have at least one deceased so far and we're still in a search pattern."

At least two dozen of the 50 or so trailers were destroyed.

"A few trailers on the perimeter are still standing, but everything in the middle is completely gone," Chetek police Officer Cody Stauner told the Leader-Telegram.

A survey performed Wednesday by the NWS revealed the tornado was at least EF2 in strength with preliminary maximum wind speeds of 120-130 mph. After touring the damage in Chetek on Wednesday, Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency for Barron, Rusk and Jackson counties. 

Deadly Tornado Hits Elk City, Oklahoma

A tornado also hit Elk City, Oklahoma, damaging numerous homes and structures, according to the NWS. The roof was torn off of a structure and a home collapsed in the twister that was given a preliminary rating of EF2 by the NWS.

Multiple people were trapped inside homes after the tornado, reported. Emergency crews were dispatched to the scene, and to a golf course where a gas leak was reported. 

Beckham County Emergency Management Director Lonnie Risenhoover told the Associated Press "a lot of tornado damage" was reported in the Elk County area. Some homes and outbuildings were damaged severely and power lines and utility poles were downed. 

Danny Ringer, a chaplain with the Elk City Fire Department, said 53-year-old Bo Mikles was killed when he attempted to flee the storm in his vehicle, which was picked up and thrown several hundred feet. Ringer also told the AP the storm destroyed 40 homes and severely damaged 50 to 75 others.

Elk County Schools announced that all Wednesday classes are canceled.

Additional Storms Hit from Texas to Wisconsin

Strong winds caused a small plane to flip over at Eppley Airport in Omaha, Nebraska, Tuesday, NWS reports. 

Possible tornadoes were spotted over Weyerhaeuser, Wisconsin, near McLean, Texas, and in Bucklin, Kansas, Tuesday.

There were reports of giant hail falling near Bucklin, Kansas, Tuesday.

A confirmed tornado destroyed about 20 homes in central Kansas.

Barton County spokeswoman Donna Zimmerman said the tornado that formed Tuesday night near Pawnee Rock remained on the ground for up to 15 miles before dissipating west of Hoisington. The National Weather Service confirmed the EF3 tornado was actually on the ground for 27 miles with maximum winds of about 165 mph.

Zimmerman says one person suffered minor injuries and that the tiny community of Pawnee Rock is "very fortunate" that the twister struck a largely rural area. 

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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