BELLEMONT - The Coconino County Sheriff's Office received notification at 5:24 a.m. today that a series of tornadoes touched down in the Bellemont area, approximately 15 miles west of Flagstaff. A tornado watch remains in effect until 5 p.m. this afternoon for northern Arizona.
Emergency officials are currently on the scene assessing the damages. At this time, there are no reports of fatalities or major injuries, and no missing persons have been reported.
Multiple homes were damaged, with a report of approximately 10-15 homes in Bellemont that are uninhabitable. Approximately 30 people have been relocated temporarily and Red Cross is in the process of setting up an emergency reception center for displaced persons at Flagstaff Middle School, N. Bonito St. in Flagstaff. The shelter should be operational by noon today.
The Camping World RV Park in Bellemont reported that 30 RVs have blown over and the debris blew onto Interstate 40, causing a traffic slowdown. Several semis and passenger vehicles were blown off of I-40 and multiple Burlington Northern Santa Fe train cars were derailed as a result of the force of the tornado.
Department of Public Safety and Arizona Department of Transportation are monitoring weather and highway conditions. The public should expect temporary closures throughout the day.
A tornado warning is in effect until 11 a.m. with the possibility of multiple tornadoes expected in the western portions of Coconino County. The warning may be extended if conditions worsen. Citizens are encouraged to monitor their weather radios and local radio stations.
A citizen hotline has been activated for the public to obtain information and updates about the emergency. The number is 1-888-679-8393.
Coconino County officials offer the following precautions to follow in the event of a tornado -
Do not use highway overpasses for shelter. Overpasses do not provide protection from tornadic winds. Vehicles stopped under bridges block traffic and prevent people from getting out of the storm`s path and to shelter. If you cannot drive away from the tornado, get out of your vehicle and lie flat in a ditch as a last resort.
Do not use your car to try to outrun a tornado. Cars are easily tossed around by tornado winds. If you are caught in the path of a tornado, leave the car and go to a strong building. If no safe structure is nearby, seek shelter in a ditch or low spot and cover your head.
The safest place to be during a tornado is in a basement. Get under a workbench or other piece of sturdy furniture. If no basement is available, seek shelter on the lowest floor of the building in an interior hallway or room such as a closet. Use blankets or pillows to cover your body and always stay away from windows.
If in mobile homes or vehicles, evacuate them and get inside a substantial shelter. If no shelter is available, lie flat in the nearest ditch or other low spot and cover your head with your hands.