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Violent tornado that hit Missouri's capital 'felt like an earthquake'

The destruction in Jefferson City came toward the end of a string of strong storms and suspected tornadoes that swept through parts of Missouri on Wednesday.

Posted: May 23, 2019 8:42 AM
Updated: May 23, 2019 9:07 AM

(CNN) -- A tornado smashed into the Missouri capital as people slept Wednesday night, ripping buildings apart and leaving destruction that the city was only beginning to comprehend as daylight broke Thursday morning.

The destruction in Jefferson City came toward the end of a string of strong storms and suspected tornadoes that swept through parts of Missouri on Wednesday. At least three people were killed in a daylight storm in Golden City, more than 150 miles southwest of the capital.

In Jefferson City, the tornado's funnel was wider than its height, and hit shortly before midnight Wednesday, sending debris as high as 13,000 feet into the air, the National Weather Service said.

"When it hit ... it felt like an earthquake," resident Cindy Sandoval-Jakobsen said.

At least 20 people were treated for injuries in Jefferson City, and no deaths were reported there, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday morning.

Bricks, trees and downed power lines littered parts of the capital Thursday morning.

"Many, many buildings have significant damage, and there's a lot of buildings that have small damage as well. It's very widespread," Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin told CNN.

The destruction in Missouri came as severe weather has ravaged the central United States over the past several days, unleashing twisters, drenching rain, flash flooding and hail.

At least 29 tornadoes have been reported from early Wednesday into Thursday morning, mostly in Missouri and Oklahoma, the National Weather Service said. A total of 171 have been reported since Friday.

The danger continues for the region Thursday. Tornadoes could pose threats from Lubbock, Texas, to the Kansas City area and from Columbus, Ohio, to Philadelphia, according to CNN meteorologist Haley Brink.

Witnesses describe harrowing scenes

In Jefferson City, trees and poles were snapped and tossed like toys. Cars were overturned at a local dealership.

"Several structures have damage, roofs torn off houses, trees and power lines down. Basically a war zone," said Eric Cunningham, who took shelter in his basement.

David Bell got a weather alert that a tornado was headed his way, forcing him to pull over his truck on the side of the highway. Around him, houses collapsed and transformers blew out in flashes.

His windscreen shattered, and part of a house was tossed underneath his trailer, he said.

"I don't even know how to explain it," he said. "I watched a bunch of transformers blown. Houses next to me completely obliterated. A house halfway underneath my trailer."

Tornadoes across Missouri

Golden City, about a three-hour drive southwest of Jefferson City, launched search-and-rescue missions after a possible tornado there.

A tornado also hit near Joplin on the eighth anniversary of the devastating twister that killed 161 people there. According to radar images, the storm passed a few miles north of Joplin, in far southwestern Missouri.

In nearby Carl Junction, Chris Higgins recorded a video of a twister churning just outside his neighborhood during daylight Wednesday.

Elsewhere in Missouri, a husband and wife were killed Tuesday when their SUV skidded across the center lines of US 160 and struck a semi.

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Bitter cold temperatures have returned to the area with temperatures in the single digits and wind chills below zero this morning. Temperatures will struggle to warm up today with highs in the 20s under mostly sunny skies. Temperatures will slowly start to warm throughout the rest of the work week as dry weather continues. The weekend looks to be mild and sunny with highs in the 40s.
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