Y CITY, Ark. (AP) — Flash flooding and tornadoes killed three people in Arkansas as powerful storms swept through the nation’s midsection, including a local sheriff who drowned while checking on residents whose house was eventually swamped by rising water, authorities said Friday. Three other people are missing.
The storms rolled across the region overnight, and more bad weather was poised to strike Friday, with tornadoes and baseball-sized hail forecast from Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Flooding also is a concern in parts of Missouri, Iowa and Illinois through Sunday.
Torrential rain, including at least 6 inches in the rugged terrain of western Arkansas, posed the greatest danger the night before. In Y City, about 125 miles west of Little Rock, the Fourche La Fave River rose 24 feet in just 24 hours.
“The water just comes off that hill like someone is pouring a bucket in there,” said Danny Straessle, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Highway and Transportation. “This was an incredible amount of water.”
Scott County Sheriff Cody Carpenter died while trying to check on local residents during the storm. He and wildlife officer Joel Campora had traveled by boat up Mill Creek to reach two people who called for assistance — and the river swamped the house while they were still inside.
“Other deputies heard a loud crash,” said Bill Hollenbeck, the sheriff of neighboring Sebastian County. “They thought that the bridge had actually collapsed. Looking into it further, the house had imploded as a directly result of rising waters from Mill Creek.”
Carpenter’s body was recovered about a mile downstream. Campora and the two women inside the home remained missing Friday, Hollenbeck said.
“We’re here right now for recovery or rescue. We’re still remaining optimistic about our officer at this time,” said Mike Knoedl, director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “(Campora) was an epitome of what a wildlife officer should be, and he was doing what he was trained to do last night.”
A man died after strong winds toppled a tree onto his car in Tull, just west of Little Rock. Authorities also are attributing the death of a woman in Scott County to the flooding, though they’ve release no information other than her body was found in her car.
Up to a dozen tornadoes touched down in mostly rural parts of Arkansas on Thursday, as well as three in Oklahoma and one in Illinois. In Oklahoma, one twister bounced through the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow, causing some structural damage, but no injuries.
The National Weather Service sent teams to survey the aftermath of Thursday’s storms in Arkansas. The warning coordination meteorologist in Little Rock, John Robinson, said it could take days for the weather service to confirm whether tornadoes struck as flooded highways were hindering access to the storm-hit areas.
Thursday’s tornadoes were all less dangerous than the top-of-the-scale EF5 storm that struck Moore, Okla., on May 20 and killed 24 along its 17-mile path.
The U.S. averages more than 1,200 tornadoes a year, but EF5 storms like the one in Moore — with winds over 200 mph — happen only about once per year. The tornado last week was the nation’s first EF5 since 2011.
This spring’s tornado season got a late start, with unusually cool weather keeping funnel clouds at bay until mid-May. The season usually starts in March and then ramps up for the next couple of months.
Of the 60 EF5 tornadoes since 1950, Oklahoma and Alabama have been struck the most, seven times each. More than half of these top-of-the-scale twisters have occurred in just five states: Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
Associated Press writers Ken Miller in Oklahoma City, Jill Bleed and Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock, Ark., and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.