Arizona tornado clean-up begins in aftermath
The Arizona tornado damaged about 200 homes in the small town of several hundred residents, and 33 homes were destroyed or uninhabitable, Coconino County Sheriff's spokesman Gerry Blair said.
Volunteers were assessing damage and providing food, work gloves and comfort kits to residents of Bellemont, just west of Flagstaff. Workers with the state Department of Emergency Services were conducting a thorough assessment of the damage.
Blair described the spectrum of damage as "on the low end maybe some siding blown off or possibly a window broken, and on the high end where the house is totally destroyed."
The swarm of tornadoes also destroyed dozens of recreational vehicles at an RV sales lot and toppled more than two dozen train cars. No major injuries were reported, but six people were slightly hurt.
Nearly two dozen tornado warnings were issued for the northern Arizona region on Wednesday, National Weather Service meteorologist George Howard said. Four were confirmed to have touched down, but weather radar showed many more twisters likely formed but weren't confirmed.
That number matched the average yearly total for conformed twisters in the state.
In Bellemont, residents picked through their wrecked homes and tried to salvage what they could.
Carlos Rojas, a U.S. Marine who lives in the neighborhood, told KTVK-TV that he was getting ready to leave for his morning workout when the tornado hit. His 11-year-old daughter had asked if she could climb into bed with her mother because of a windstorm outside.
"As soon as she laid down in bed, about two minutes later, we heard something that sounded basically like a freight train coming in, and then all of a sudden we heard an explosion," Rojas said. "The closest thing I could relate it to is maybe an IED in Iraq going off."
Rojas said at that moment, he looked up to see the roof being torn off his house, and then a piece of a wall from a neighboring house slammed down on the family. Rojas and his wife shoved it aside, making a makeshift lean-to with the bed, where the family huddled for protection.
Rojas said he and his wife, and their children, ages 11 and 2, "tucked underneath as the rest of the storm passed over."
"We basically just kind of held on to keep ourselves from being sucked out of the home. Everything else in the room was sucked out and thrown out all over the fields," he said.
Rojas suffered a minor cut, as did his wife and one child.
Across Interstate 40 at Camping World, RVs were tossed around like cordwood.
"One was actually blown out of the RV yard, across I-40 and into the median," said Blair, who toured the area Thursday morning. "And there are RVs that are upside down, end on end, its quite a devastating sight."