WHEATON, Mo. — Bob Hughes should have spent Wednesday morning reviewing a new $75,000 addition to his business, Southwest Auction Service, on the outskirts of Wheaton. It was to have been the final walk-through before he made his last payment on the project.
Instead, he spent the morning fielding phone calls and visits from concerned friends, family members, neighbors and volunteers who sought to help him clean up after his property was struck one day earlier by a tornado, which left a trail of debris in its wake.
"We've just got great people around us," he said while standing amid the rubble on his 80 acres. "If you live in Southwest Missouri, you're family. We're resilient."
Damage at the Hughes property, on which there were several structures, was among that listed in communities across the area after a string of tornadoes moved through on Tuesday.
From Tuesday afternoon into the overnight hours, the National Weather Service station in Springfield issued 42 tornado warnings, 30 severe thunderstorm warnings and nine flash flood warnings across Southwest Missouri, Southeast Kansas and the Missouri Ozarks, meteorologist Cory Rothstein said.
"It was a very active day," he said. "We had multiple modes of severe weather: supercells, a squall line of storms that developed after the supercells, and then a large amount of rainfall and flooding."
The station initially told news media that there were unconfirmed reports of five to seven tornadoes across its coverage area. By Wednesday afternoon, three of those tornadoes had been confirmed.
One was an EF0 tornado that touched down about 5 miles northeast of Purdy near Pleasant Ridge. It was on the ground for about 10 minutes, carving a path about 200 yards wide and 5 miles long. Meteorologists said it damaged several outbuildings and uprooted trees in the area.
Another was an EF1 tornado that touched down southwest of Rocky Comfort and went through Wheaton. It was on the ground for 22 minutes with a 12-mile path that stretched as wide as half a mile, destroying numerous buildings and uprooting hundreds of trees.
The third, also rated EF1, touched down about 2 miles southwest of Miller, in Lawrence County, staying on the ground for 12 minutes before lifting about 2 miles northeast of Miller. The tornado path was about 100 yards wide and 4 miles long; it damaged a metal building and uprooted numerous trees. Meteorologists said it was the first of two tornadoes in the Miller area, although no information was available for the second tornado as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Two survey teams from the weather service were still out, scouring "potential tornado locations," Rothstein said. That work was expected to take a few days to complete.
Hughes' property just outside Wheaton, which he has owned since 1988, contained a house that was inhabited by his son, a kennel-supply business, an auction services business, a mechanic shop, a hay barn, 10 to 15 trailers, approximately 10 vehicles and numerous other pieces of equipment. All was destroyed, but the family — Hughes and his wife, plus their three children and four grandchildren — were safely in a shelter at Hughes' home, which is closer to Fairview.
"My theory is that sticks and stones are better than flesh and bones," Hughes said of the damage. He said he did not lose any children or grandchildren.
"I can't think of anybody more blessed than me," he said.
'Just material things'
The tornado obliterated the ground floor of the two-story house on the property, leaving only the structure of the upper floor perched precariously on the foundation. The home's resident, Tyrek Powell, was working Wednesday morning to salvage some of his clothes and personal items.
But like Hughes, his father, he was in good spirits.
"It's just material things," he said. "It doesn't matter. We can get new ... ."
Less than 24 hours after the tornado hit, Hughes estimated he had already received hundreds of visits and phone calls from people wanting to help him clean up his property. As of Wednesday morning, he had temporarily halted cleanup because the family is waiting to see if there will be a disaster declaration that could open up financial assistance.
Damage also could be seen along Route W just off of Highway 86 in Wheaton, where there were numerous uprooted trees, downed power lines and collapsed outbuildings. The Wheaton School District canceled classes on Wednesday because of the damage and loss of power to the schools.
Over in Lawrence County, the Miller Rural Fire Department reported on Facebook that homes were damaged and trees were felled in the area of Highway 39 and Route UU in Miller.
Gina Langston, who lives just south of Miller, said one of the tornadoes there destroyed her neighbor's house, toppled a power line onto a car and uprooted trees. Volunteers have already turned up to help with cleanup, she said.
"We've had a few churches say they would come help us," said Langston, who is the editor and publisher of The Vedette in Dade County. "I'm pointing everybody in my neighbor's direction."