Total of 5 tornadoes touch down in Northern Arizona

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Taken by Richard Durnez, Flagstaff. By Alicia Barron Taken by Richard Durnez, Flagstaff. By Alicia Barron
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
Damage from tornado in Bellemont, Ariz. By Jennifer Thomas Damage from tornado in Bellemont, Ariz. By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
Near Bellemont, Ariz. By Jennifer Thomas Near Bellemont, Ariz. By Jennifer Thomas

BELLEMONT, Ariz. -- The National Weather Service has confirmed that two tornadoes touched down in the area of Interstate 40 between mileposts 180 and 190 west of Flagstaff Wednesday morning.

"That confirmation came because the tornado passed almost directly over our office here in Bellemont," said Dan LeBlanc of the National Weather Service.

The first hit Bellemont around 5:30 a.m. and the second touched down east of the small community about 45 minutes later. That's the one that passed by the NWS office. Damage to homes in the area is extensive with smashed windows and siding torn off some residences. Between 10 and 15 home are uninhabitable. Seven people reportedly were injured, but those injuries were not serious. No fatalities or missing persons have been reported.

The National Weather Service determined the tornado to hit Bellemont was a category EF-1 meaning winds reached between 86-110 miles-per-hour.

The Red Cross has set up a reception center and shelter at Flagstaff Middle School for some 30 people who have been displaced. That shelter is located at 755 N. Bonito St., Flagstaff. Red Cross disaster services workers are also coordinating with emergency managers in both Coconino and Yavapai counties. Volunteers are ready to roll should the need arise.

Emergency information hotline

The Department of Public Safety reported several collisions in the Bellemont area. No serious injuries were reported in those wrecks. I-40 was closed for a time from Parks to the A-1 interchange, roughly milepost 170 to 190.

As of 10:15 a.m., Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Doug Nintzel said I-40 was open between Flagstaff and Williams. Debris, however, was a major issue on several highways and roadways in the Flagstaff area, causing some significant backups. Drivers were being urged to go slowly and exercise extreme caution. DPS is advising people to avoid the area if possible. Crews were working to clear that debris. Intermittent closures are possible throughout the day.

According to Lena Kent off Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the severe weather up north derailed a 58-car train. One of the tornadoes blew 28 cars off the tracks. A crew of two was aboard the train at the time. Neither was hurt. The train, which was stopped in Bellemont because of the tornado warning, was heading east, hauling containerized cargo from ports in Los Angeles. It was not carrying any hazardous materials. Both the eastbound and westbound tracks are closed. Kent said crews are working to clear the tracks and expect to have them back open by midnight.

At the Camping World RV Park in Bellemont, some 30 RVs were blown over and the debris was scattered all over I-40.

A third confirmed tornado near Blue Ridge ripped a path through the forest. Forest Service employees reported a nearly 15-mile-long path with numerous downed trees. A fourth tornado was confirmed two miles south of Munds Park.

A fifth tornado was confirmed to have touched down near Fort Valley, a cross country ski area in the high country.

A tornado warning for central Coconino and northeastern Yavapai Counties, including Bellemont, expired at 8:15 a.m. Radar continues to show several super cells thunderstorms in central and north central Arizona capable of producing tornadoes with little or no advance notice, moving north-northeastward at approximately 50 mph.

Three new warnings were issued for Flagstaff, Sedona/Oak Creek Canyon and the area south of Tuba City shortly after 11 a.m. as a line of severe thunderstorms developed from east of Prescott to north to Bellemont and the Parks area. Those warnings expired at 12:45 p.m., but a new one was issued for Flagstaff a few minutes later. The severe weather is expected to continue through Wednesday afternoon. A tornado watch continues for central and north-central Arizona until 5 p.m.

A citizen hotline has been activated for the public to obtain information and updates about the emergency. The number is 1-888-679-8393.

In addition, an emergency operations center has been set up at the Sheriff’s Office in Flagstaff.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.