Image: Tornado damage
Orlin Wagner  /  AP
Cleanup begins at a tornado-damaged home in Reading, Kan.
updated 5/22/2011 3:26:05 PM ET 2011-05-22T19:26:05

A tornado swept through a small eastern Kansas town, killing one person and destroying at least 20 homes, as severe thunderstorms pelted the region with hail that some residents said was the size of baseballs, authorities said early Sunday.

A man was pronounced dead shortly after being taken to Newman Regional Hospital in Emporia, about 20 miles from where the tornado hit Saturday night in Reading, hospital supervisor Deb Gould said. She said two other people were brought in with injuries but she had no further details.

Five people were injured in all, along with the person killed, said Sharon Watson, the spokeswoman for the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. She did not have details on their injuries or know whether all were hospitalized.

About 200 homes were damaged in and around the town of about 250 people, Watson said. The local post office and volunteer fire department were damaged, and all roads in and out of the town have been closed off. Reading is about 50 miles south of Topeka.

Fields around the town were littered with sections of aluminum, insulation and papers. A tractor stood alone in a field, the building that surrounded it demolished. A large board pierced the wall of a home that was missing its roof and windows. A pile of stones was all that was left of another building.

Outside, some people were starting to clean up the debris, utility crews were fixing downed lines and law enforcement officers were taking pictures to document the damage. One family sat on their front porch looking at what the storm had done. Next door, their neighbor's mature cedar tree had been toppled.

Rev. Lyle Williams, who lives in Emporia and is a pastor for about 10 worshipers at the Reading First Baptist Church, said the church suffered extensive damage.

Story: Tornadoes slam northeast Kansas; 1 killed

"Yeah, it's pretty bad," he told the AP. "My daughter was out there and told me about it."

"I'm not going to be able to have church today that's for sure," he added, saying he's been a pastor at the church for 21 years.

Residents and their family and friends posted pleas for information on a Facebook page. Many landline phones in the town rang unanswered Sunday, and the storm had disrupted cellphone coverage.

Some power had been restored, but most of the town remained without it. A shelter was set up at a local school, and the Salvation Army was serving meals, snacks and drinks from a mobile feeding kitchen.

While many states have been struck by severe storms this spring, Kansas has been having one of its lightest tornado seasons in decades, according to the National Weather Service. Until Saturday, no tornadoes had been reported in May, a month that averages nearly 30. Last May, 127 tornadoes tore through the state.

For the year so far, the state had seen only eight tornadoes, compared to the January-to-May average of about 44.

The tornado season picked up late Saturday, however. Powerful storms rolled across the northeast part of the state, spawning funnel clouds and hail that ripped limbs off trees and shattered windows. In Topeka, residents reported hail the size of golf balls and, in some cases, baseballs.

Along with the tornado that hit Reading, the weather service confirmed that one touched down in Topeka and northeast of the city near Lake Perry, where damage was reported at a nearby campsite, Watson said. An elderly couple was trapped inside a mobile home until emergency responders could clear the debris. The couple was not hurt.

Gov. Sam Brownback declared an emergency for 16 counties, including the one surrounding Reading, Watson said. The declaration allows state resources to be used in recovery and cleanup and paves the way for federal assistance if needed. Watson said a state team had been sent to Reading to help local officials with recovery work.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim and everyone impacted by this storm," Brownback said in a news release.

___

Associated Press writers Erin Gartner in Chicago and Bill Cormier in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Wild weather whips across Midwest

  1. Transcript of: Wild weather whips across Midwest

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: We begin with a developing story out of Minnesota where severe storms and at least three tornadoes have swept through sections of Minneapolis . Early pictures from there show extensive damage in residential areas in north Minneapolis and thousands are said to be without power. By late afternoon, our colleagues at The Weather Channel had tallied at least 17 tornadoes across sections of Minnesota , Iowa and Missouri , on what has been an especially dangerous and volatile weekend throughout the country's midsection. Right now severe weather watches and warnings cover a 1,000-mile stretch from Dallas north to the Twin Cities . NBC 's Janet Shamlian leads off our coverage with this report.

    JANET SHAMLIAN reporting: A first look at the devastation from above after at least four suspected tornado touchdowns in and around Minneapolis .

    Unidentified Man #1: Everybody OK?

    Unidentified Man #2: Everybody OK.

    Man #1: OK?

    SHAMLIAN: Shocked neighbors getting their first look at the damage.

    Unidentified Woman #1: Then it got real dark. The power started going in and out. And we just made a run for it.

    SHAMLIAN: Like this home ripped apart at the seams, debris everywhere. And tonight, thousands are without power.

    Unidentified Woman #2: I mean, windows were flying, glass was flying everywhere. We just barely got out of there.

    SHAMLIAN: It comes one day after a similar siege in Kansas . Ominous clouds and piercing sirens warned of trouble, but even for a state in tornado alley 's path, this was a hard hit. The tiny town of Reading, Kansas , population just over 200, was the bull's-eye for a powerful twister Saturday night, an EF3 with winds of up to 165 miles an hour. Twenty homes were flattened, many more were damaged and the community is littered with the evidence. One man died in the storm. The governor has declared a state of emergency for 16 counties. It had been one of the lightest tornado seasons in decades for Kansas . This was the first tornado in May.

    MIKE BETTES reporting: Everything's come together for an outbreak of severe weather . A strong low has come off the Rocky Mountains and that's forced into some moisture in from the Gulf of Mexico . The two together are a recipe for disaster.

    SHAMLIAN: Bettes and a team from The Weather Channel were out in the path of a Missouri storm this weekend as a twister formed right in front of them.

    Unidentified Man #3: Oh, there's the funnel!

    BETTES: There's a funnel up top there.

    Man #3: Up above the top of the...

    BETTES: You can see it very well defined up there.

    SHAMLIAN: The twisters cut a wide path. This one spotted in Oklahoma .

    Unidentified Man #4: It's coming! The power lines right here!

    SHAMLIAN: And in Nebraska , the unmistakable sound of hail. Residents say it looked like golf balls were being dumped from the sky. This wild weather comes on the heels of a violent and deadly late April outbreak, the largest in US history ; twisters across 21 states, claiming more than 300 lives. And the weather story continues here in Louisiana . The rain from that system that brought tornadoes will flow into the Mississippi , adding to the floodwaters and the concern for so many people in this area. Lester :

    HOLT: Janet Shamlian , thanks. The Weather

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