With at least 56 dead, the residents of "Tornado Alley" began picking over their tattered belongings today in the wake of destructive tornadoes, among the worst of this century in Texas, that hit three communities in this state and one in neighboring Oklahoma Tuesday. It was feared that all the victims' bodies had not been found.
More than 800 had reported injuries today as Gov. William P. Clements toured this city of 100,000 and said damage to Wichita Falls alone could run $200 million to $300 million.
"They're just piled up out there," Mayor Kenneth Hill said of the 41 fatalities here. "I wouldn't be surprised if we had 100 dead in the final count."
As the cleanup was under way on the Texas-Oklahoma border, other tornadoes struck today in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Louisiana.
At least 44 were injuried in Grannis, Strickland and Wiekes, Ark, and the south Arkansas town of hamburg suffered its second twister in four days, although no one was hurt. On Sunday 17 were injured and more than $1 million in damage was reported there.
At least two persons were injured in the Kansas City suburb of Liberty, where a church roof was blown away. Minor property damage was reported in nearby Independence.
Heavy winds blew across the Texas plains today, scattering the debris from Tuesday's destruction. Trucks lay tipped over along highways, cars were helter-skelter across the landscape and houses stood in various states of demolition.
The tornado's path was said to be up to 1 1/2 miles wide and eight miles long here.
National Guard troops and rifle-toting police patroled Wichita Falls today, where a 9 p. m. curfew was declared by the mayor to prevent looting, some of which began only moments after the tornado hit Tuesday at 6 p.m.
The destruction was so great in some places as to leave the landscape unrecognizable-removing familiar landmarks and leaving twisted metal, fallen street lights-and to create an almost unbelievable terrain of junk.
"It was a funny feeling-I was lost," said Monty Knox, 40, a Southwestern Bell telephone worker who has lived here all his life and who today could not recognize the highway he drives daily. "All the landmarks were gone. I didn't know where I was. It was eerie, a ghost town," he said.
With utility lines down, repair crews worked to restore telephone and electrical service. Water was in short supply, and sewage treatment plants were disabled.
Many residents had some warning, blasted at them by tornado sirens around the city. There was less warning in Vernon, 75 miles to the northwest, where 12 persons were killed when the first tornado hit at 3:50 p.m. Tuesday. At that time, Susan Worthley, 26, was busy fixing dinner for her husband, Billy, and two sons, 6 and 3. She was hoping to beat the tornado.
The first siren sounded at 5 p.m.
At 6 there was a second blast,and "There television told us to take immediate shelter-open your windows and get to it," she said.
She left dinner on the table "and we just ran" from the three-bedroom house.
Like others in the neighborhood, she ran next door, to the only storm cellar nearby. People huddled around the door as the sky darkened and the funnel cloud appeared.
The door was opened and 20 people, most of them children, hurried down the eight steps into the concrete bunker where they would spend the next 30 minutes in terror.
The children were crying and the adults praying. A hurricane lamp and flashlights broke the darkness of the storm cellar, packed with beans and peaches put up in jars.
"My two (children) were just shaking half to death," Worthley said. "It sounded like a big old freight train-we could really feel it."
Finally the quiet came, and the group decided to come out. The Worthley's $26,000, three-bedroom house was ruined, their cars smashed and covered with mud and their furnishings reduced to shards and splinters.
"I was in tears," Susan Worthley said.
"We're more thankful than anything," her husband added.
Noy everyone at Bird's Seafood Restaurant, a block away, was so lucky. A tourist was killed and his wife injured. The restaurant was reduced to rubble and the parking lot was taken over as a Salvation Army station to serve those driven from their homes. Across a highway, people's possessions were trapped, tangled and otherwise wrapped among the trees.
In addition to the 41 dead here and 11 in Vernon, authorities reported one death in Harrold, Tex., and three in Lawton, Okla.-communities well familiar with the seasonal tornadoes that blow so frequently through here that the area is known as "Tornado Alley."
Many residents prepared to spend another night in churches and othermake-do shelters or drive to relatives' houses.
As she packed damaged belongings into her damaged 1973 Ford-the left side windows and doors stuck shut and the windshield cracked-Susan Worthley said, "I never want to go through it again." Then she placed in the back seat a gold plaster plaque of two praying hands that had somehow remained intact on her living room wall despite the chaos around it CAPTION: Picture 1 A tornado moves toward Wichita Falls, Tex., near dusk Tuesday, left, killing dozens and injuring hundreds more. The storm center moved north, copyright (c) By Wichita Falls Times and Record News; Picture 2, Jack Lytle of Lawton, Okla, surveys damage done by a twister to his home, AP;