PINE BLUFF — Weather officials confirmed Thursday that a tornado bringing winds up to 110 mph briefly touched down in east-central Arkansas a day earlier, ripping the roof off of an apartment building, badly injuring one person and displacing dozens of people from their homes.
First responders removed some 150 Pine Bluff residents from Myranda's Place Apartments when the building's roof was torn off during a Wednesday evening storm. A witness described hearing a loud boom as the lights went dark before the winds hit the building.Gallery: Pine Bluff storm damage
The National Weather Service said an EF-1 tornado briefly touched down and traveled about a quarter mile.
Four people suffered injuries ranging from minor to severe at the apartment, officials said.
Sheridea Woods was at the apartment complex to visit her mother and was inside her car when the storm hit.
“I was trying to close my car door and it wouldn’t let me so I tried to use both hands and it wouldn’t let me,” Woods said. “I got out of the car and tried to go upstairs but the wind was blowing me and I had to hold onto the rails.”
Woods said when she reached the top of the stairs the wind blew her back down to the bottom.
“So I held onto the pole that was on the side,” she said. “That went on for about 30 seconds and then it calmed so I ran inside. There was debris just flying everywhere, so when I got into the house everything was leaking. We looked outside and we realized that it was a tornado. It had to have been.”
Woods said her mother’s apartment was badly damaged and leaking but no one there was injured.
“Just scared, that’s all. She’s fine but she lost everything.”
Mayor Shirley Washington on Thursday morning thanked first responders and organizations like the American Red Cross who “heroically stepped up in our time of need.”
“Together as a community we will make right what is wrong, repair what is broken and heal what is injured,” she said. “The City of Pine Bluff will recover.”
A weather service survey crew confirmed a tornado hit after inspecting the damage Thursday morning.
Officials previously said that radar at the time didn’t indicate a tornado.
The weather service issued a severe thunderstorm warning at the time but sirens didn’t sound.
“The vast majority of tornadoes that touch down are weak like this,” said John Lewis, a senior forecaster at the North Little Rock bureau. He said it makes them sometimes difficult to initially spot and predict compared to larger tornadoes, which are very rare.
A similar tornado touched down in Little Rock last week, carrying about the same speeds. No one was injured. The powerful gusts knocked over large commercial vehicles and uprooted trees in the southwest part of the capital city.
The storm system that surged through Arkansas Wednesday saw heavy rainfall and strong winds push through the southern and central parts of the state, triggering flash flood warnings, roads and school closures.
Forecasters predict that another system will move into the area Thursday and that the state will see a batch of heavier rainfall on Friday and Saturday.
Meteorologist Dylan Cooper said Thursday's system will likely produce isolated thunderstorms that are less likely to become widespread.
Much of the eastern two-thirds of the state is under a marginal risk for severe weather for Thursday, according to the weather service. Heavy winds are the agency's main concern, while chances for tornadoes forming are low.
The added wet weather could complicate late week travel and add to already-rising river water levels as two to three more inches of rain could fall in southeastern Arkansas. The Little Rock metro area could see up to two inches of rain.
“It could aggravate the situation,” Cooper said, adding that forecasters predict multiple rivers will reach moderate flooding levels in the coming weeks.
Forecasters predict the rainy stretch to dry up and clear the state by Sunday.